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Thursday, April 30, 2015

displacing even more....

Wow, that resistance to the thematic chapters is pretty powerful. Today's displacement activities included a rather long and complex negotiation with a friend to set up a Sunday brunch, paying bills, checking into tango class options...

All of that after an insanely late start to the work day, and followed by time working on the "Science and Science Fiction" chapter. That chapter actually needed more work than I realized; what I'd done was not only relatively sketchy but pretty well left out an important chunk dealing with the conventions of SF as a genre.

So I've been noodling around with that, while getting up to walk around every 50 minutes--and now I have to fold up my tents and pack up for tonight's sojourn into the City for tonight's dance class (and I have already paid for another for tomorrow, just to make sure I go).

Which means, my dears, that this is all I have time for tonight. But despite all the displacement activities, I did get some work done, which is all to the good.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

displacement activity

Full confession: I'm avoiding the themes thing. Today, I decided instead to work through each section, in order, to get an approximate word count (helpful for potential publishers) and to reassure myself that each of those sections is, in fact, about as done as I can get it. I got through the first three ("Welcome to Students," "Socio-Historical Context" and "The Hainish Matrix"). Next up is "Science and Science Fiction." Then--if I really do take things in order--is the themes chapter.

I'm not quite sure why I'm resisting that part of the project so fiercely. It may be that I feel some insecurity as a scholar: all the rest of this has been very much written from my strengths as a teacher, but even though the themes stuff is also for students, and thus also draws on the teacher side of my brain, there is a kind of analysis of the actual textual material that I both love and feel oddly daunted by.

It is also possible that I'm simply suffering from spring fever. I know it hits students when the weather suddenly turns gorgeous (and I have to say, I'm glad I'm not trying to keep students' attention on class material on a day like today: usually, the absentee rate soars when temperatures get above 70 and everyone suddenly starts thinking "BEACH!"); when I have to be in the classroom, I suffer a little of the frustration that the students feel (no fair to be cooped up indoors) but I also am engaged in the drive to final versions of final papers, so I don't feel quite as easily distracted. But since I don't have to be answerable to anyone but myself, it's very easy to let my responsibilities slide and think, "Nah, I'm going to walk home, drop off my insanely heavy pack, and noodle around outside."

I know pretty soon I'm going to be writing blog posts about panic, of the "I only have X more days and I still haven't whatever" variety: I know the sabbatical isn't really over on May 11, when I have to set an alarm and get to campus to help Bruce with summer schedules, but I also know that as soon as I'm back on campus semi-regularly, it will be hard to focus on the sabbatical project, as I'll want to turn my attention to class stuff: clearing out my files, cleaning off my desk, sending things to the copy center, working on syllabi and schedules....

I had a great dinner with Paul last night, celebrating his birthday (which is Friday) and my promotion--but one of the things that came up was the fact that I'm still holding on to a desire to metaphorically smack the snotty student from last fall, the one who asked for comments on her final paper, never picked them up, and in her self-evaluation essentially said, "I learned a lot except that I didn't really learn anything because I already know everything I need to know." Two or three other students also asked for comments and never picked up their work, but it's pretty clear that I'm not bothered in those cases as I can't even remember how many there are, never mind who they are. But that one female student: I had hoped that as I spent all this time away from campus, I'd stop caring at all about whether I got the last word in the largely unspoken argument with her. Clearly not. And since it's still bugging me, I've pretty much decided that, when I'm back on campus, I will pull out her paper, her self-evaluation, and my response to her self-evaluation; I'll add a little note saying something like, "You never picked this up, and your experience since I saw you last may make what I have to say here moot--and you probably don't care anyway--but I thought I'd send it to you, because you did ask for my comments...." I hope, if I do that, I will then be able to let go at least a little more than I have managed so far.

It's interesting the students who stick in our minds. There are the ones I've kept in touch with, the shining stars and beautiful souls I've been privileged to work with. There are a few others who stand out in my mind as extraordinary and wonderful: I remember most of their names, but a few I just remember the face and the experience of having the student in my classroom. There are the ones who stand out because they were particularly annoying for one reason or another (angry, dense, stoopid). I tend not to remember their names at all: I remember why they bugged me, and again, I can see faces and recall the class--but I'm not entirely sure that I'd recognize the name if I encountered it again. And then there are the rest. Only once in all the years I've been teaching have I run into a former student whom I did not recognize at all: not the name, not the face, nothing. She did OK in my class, too, so it's very odd to me that absolutely nothing about her rang a bell in the least. More often, I'll see someone on campus--and occasionally elsewhere (a former student is a checker at a grocery store that I frequent)--and think "That was one of mine." I may not be able to come up with more than that--which class, when, name, anything. I just remember that the face was for a time in one of my classes.

And come fall, I get a whole new crop of them. But not yet. However, writing all that, I think that--in addition to running the stuff I've written on this project past some of my colleagues at 4-year schools--it might be good to ask some of my former students to take a look, let me know what they think. Hm. Worth thinking about.

But not now. Now, early as it is, the siren call of a gorgeous day can be resisted no longer: I have to pack up and get out there. It's odd to actively be looking forward to slightly crappy weather--but it is easier to work when I don't have any particular reason to want to stay outside.

And eventually, I will get to the theme stuff. Eventually.

Monday, April 27, 2015

wandering around the outskirts

I've been effectively away from the project for a while, and I spent today all around the edges of it, not really getting into the heart of it at all. I sent off some e-mails related to the thing, and I spent some time reviewing the proposals (one-page version and the "long form" proposal)--and had a "yikes!" moment when I realized that the proposals said I was going to do something (several somethings) that I am not, in fact, doing. I know that process very well from writing my dissertation, though in that case I was reassured that it was completely expected that the actual dissertation might resemble the proposal only in the most general and ball-parkish sort of ways. In the case of a proposal for a publisher, I rather feel there needs to be a closer relationship between what is proposed and what the actual product.

I've printed out the proposals, in fact. I hope that the next day I have to dive deeply into the work will be spent doing exactly that: I finished the glossary and pronunciation guide, so I really do have to get to the thematic stuff (which I admit I was avoiding today). But next time I hit a day when I don't have the intestinal fortitude to do the heavy lifting, I want to more carefully compare the proposals to what I've got--and start making notes for revision (whether of the proposal or of the sections themselves will be determined on a case-by-case basis).

In fact, today didn't shape up at all the way I intended when I got out of bed: I didn't head downtown to work (stayed home); I kept forgetting to set the timer so I'd get up and move (though I did actually go outside to walk--and the first time, was out longer than I normally would be); I didn't finish going through the "Welcome to Students," having gotten distracted by the proposals.

Yet it feels like a reasonably productive day. So, yay for that.

Tomorrow, however, I already know I will not get any work done at all. I have a riding lesson, then a meeting with a former student who wants some advice about her next academic steps, then dinner with Paul (maybe a steak blowout, though that may be put on hold, if either of us isn't feeling up to the impact on our digestive systems). So, Wednesday will be my next work day--and I'm feeling that clock ticking down to when the "end of sabbatical" alarm goes off. But not yet. Not yet....

And now, it's time to punch out for the day, work-wise, and tend to things like feeding myself, feeding the cats, looking through the stack of popcorn reads from the library to decide which one I want to devour next. Man, life is good.

And I'm a full professor, or will be come September. I'm still having a hard time taking that in, but man it is sweet.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Best excuse ever to stop working

I had just hit the moment in working on the glossary when I needed to shift gears, and had just started looking for photos of polar landscapes, when the phone rang. It was William. "You're the only person I'm calling," he said. "Yes or no?" he asked. I had no clue what he was talking about.

We got e-mails of the letter from the campus president congratulating us on our promotions to full professor.

Of course, the BOT still has to sign off on the "recommendation," but it's really a rubber stamp: if they didn't approve the promotions, I imagine the entire Academic Senate and the Union would be manning the barricades. So I won't truly, fully believe it until I get the letter from the Board--and even then, it won't really sink in (maybe not until I start getting paychecks that reflect the new rank). I also realize I have a hard time just letting loose and being happy to celebrate something good that's happened. And this is wonderful. It's wonderful not to still be hanging fire about it, not to have to worry about it--and beyond wonderful to know that I never, ever, ever have to buck for a promotion again. That's bliss, right there.

The work wen't pretty well today, too. If I hadn't been "interrupted" when I was, I'm not sure how much more I'd have accomplished anyway. When I start noodling around doing photo research, I can get sucked into the process and completely lose track of time, but I was definitely losing my edge.

I spent some time today getting myself registered for the ASLE conference in June, too. That was time away from work on the sabbatical project, but it sure feels good to have at least a good chunk of the planning nailed down.

I'm sure there are other things I wanted to report today, but my mind is trying to go too many places all at once, so I'm going to give it a rest and do nothing that requires any form of intelligence until tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

storm comin' up...

I got a late start on the day, and had fully intended to go from Dunkin Donuts to Coffeed to the library and then walk some small errands, but at about step 2 in the plan, people in Coffeed were pointing to a suddenly ominously dark gray sky. Skedaddling being the better part of valor when it comes to an impending thunder storm (especially when the windows at home are wide open), I strapped on the pack and hustled my little self on home. I got here just before the first of a series of passing squalls, so neither the computer in my backpack nor my living-room rug got soaked. Whew.

Because of the late start, I also had told myself I'd keep working until at least 6, later if possible. I was running out of focus by a little after 5, but I decided to do a sort of fun part of the project that isn't really necessary but could be great if the whole thing gets published the way I want it to. I asked Le Guin what she thought about the idea of including an artist's renditions of sort of typical Gethenian faces, as students can't seem to wrap their minds around the fact that they're human (albeit androgynous), and that they're not Caucasian. She suggested instead providing a bunch of images of people from, oh, say, Tibet, Peru, perhaps some Inuit faces--and then asking students to come up with their own idea of what Gethenians look like. So, I just spent two delightfully maddening hours trying to find images of faces that would help: the right ethnic variations and also not easily identifiable as either female or male. Finding the images was actually relatively easy; finding information about where the images originated, so--if the images section does get included--we can obtain rights to use the images was a great deal harder. (Apparently, once something has appeared on Pinterest, all information about where it originated can only be located if one is willing to sign up for Pinterest--and I'm not in the least Pinterested.)

Writing this, of course, I recall that the other images I wanted to include were images of Arctic and Antarctic landscapes--as students (well, my students anyway) have absolutely no clue what those landscapes look like. I remember one student scoffing at the idea that it could be -60F in any kind of reality, and I had to inform him that I personally  have been in -40F weather and that -60F is not at all unheard of in the polar regions. He was absolutely gobsmacked. (Isn't that a great word? I have to remember to use it more often.)

Even before I got side-tracked into images, I managed to churn through a few more chapters' worth of glossary. I very much want to finish that off this week so I can turn my attention to the theme stuff. I'm feeling nervous about that (do I remember how to write and think intelligently about themes?), but I'm sure once I get past the initial stiffness, using those mental muscles again, I'll enjoy it. I love the book after all, so writing about it should be a treat.

And may I just say that that is a worry allayed: some little part of me was worried that working on the book like this might lead to a kind of over-saturation, might make me shy away from having anything to do with it again. Quite the contrary. The more I dig, the more I love it: if anything, my love of the novel has been reawakened by this work. It's just so damned good: I can't get enough of it.

I can, however, get enough of working on it, after enough hours in one day. And that's where I am now. I have no clue what tomorrow will end up being like in terms of work, but I'm looking forward to a day actually pretty much like today. The sun's out now (just as it's about to set), but the temperature has dropped precipitously, so I'm going to get warm and get ready for dinner. Here's hoping for an earlier to bed, earlier to rise than I've been able to achieve for a while. I keep thinking about that 7 a.m. alarm come May 11, and how spoiled I've gotten by being able to sleep as much as, as long as, and whenever I want. Things to look forward to in retirement (or if I win the lottery...).

Monday, April 20, 2015

Well, whatever...

I hate it when my students say,"Whatever..." in that tone of existential malaise. I also hate "it is what it is." (Not necessarily.) But I'm a bit in that frame of mind today, so I'm working on compassion and forgiveness--for my students (when I have them again) and for myself (much more of a challenge).

I'm making progress, but of course, not as much or as fast as I feel I "should" be. (My father used to say, "Have you been 'should' on today?" Yeah, I'm up to my ankles in should.) Although technically, officially, the sabbatical doesn't "end" until I'm back in the classroom, for all intents and purposes (or, as students would say, "for all intensive purposes"), it ends May 10, because I have now confirmed that I will be working with Bruce on the last minute cluster-fuck of summer schedules starting on the 11th. Then I do full-time faculty schedules, then I have a brief break before I head to the ASLE conference in Idaho--and then it's officially summer, any I start doing my sea-cucumber impersonation, will I, nill I. (Willy-nilly, too.) It's a Pavlovian response: warm weather, no classes, I become officially stupid.

Somewhere in there I have to prep my classes for fall, too.

Of course, all of that is cause for galloping anxiety, which desperately wants to be soothed though liberal doses of chocolate and (gluten-free) cookies--but I'm trying to practice other, healthier forms of dealing with anxiety, including reminding myself regularly that it's all "just in my head." I only need to feel anxious if I think I need to feel anxious--and, as I've noted before, anxiety is only beneficial if it acts as an impetus to work, not if it leads to "self medication" in any ingestible form. (Deep breathing, yoga, massage, soaking baths: all good. Overeating, especially on "comfort foods": not so much. Thank god I've never been much of a drinker and have absolutely no interest in recreational drugs.)

In terms of the glossary, I've gotten through chapter 10 (out of 20); in the trade paperback edition I've been using, page 146 out of 300--so truly, just about half way. Of course, as I go along, there are fewer things to add, as so much has already been established, but I want to continue until I've gone all the way through the book before I start working on the two "hard" chapters that I still have to write: the one on themes and the one specifically on the theme of loyalty and betrayal. As I think I've already said (is there anything I haven't already said?), it helps me prepare for those chapters to reread the novel with the attention to detail that I have to give it to do the glossary. So there is at least a little method to my madness here.

I have no idea how tomorrow is going to play out. I was going to have to cut my work day a bit short in order to have a riding lesson, but the lesson has now been moved to smack in the middle of my most productive work hours. I could have just canceled the lesson entirely, but tomorrow is supposed to be utterly gorgeous, and I loved my last lesson so much that I didn't want to pass up the chance. I'll see if I manage to get any work done around the lesson (and the shower after) and before the planned dinner with Paul--but if I don't, ah well. I have to continually remind myself that part of the purpose of the sabbatical--unstated, of course, but nevertheless known to all--is the ability to relax and let go a little. Between now and mid-May, I'll do what I can. Whatever I can't get done will just have to get done whenever and however it gets done--with any luck at all, because I'm suddenly under pressure from a publisher to produce X by such-and-such date. That would be spectacularly wonderful. (Of course I'd bitch about the stress of that, too, but I reserve the right to engage in "spoiled woman complaining.")

As for now, I'm going to do the evening version of the sea-cucumber transformation. I am stick-a-fork-in-me done.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

An early halt

I've been noodling around with other chapters, not working on the glossary today, and I think I can move another into the "first draft completed" column. I'm stopping early because I'm going to go be a student this evening: I'm checking out a "tango boot camp" class, but that means I have to be dressed for tango and out the door to catch a train pretty soon here. This may be the shortest blog post on record--but despite the truncated work day and the brevity of the report from the sabbatical trench, I feel pretty good about the day. But I also feel pretty good to stop. I'm working at home, and knowing that I was going to have to stop early, I haven't been getting up and moving around as much as I'd like, so my body is restless. Time to transition away from the computer and into the sunshine of a beautiful spring day.

Hasta manana.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

limping along

I got a late start (again) today, finally managed to limp into Coffeed, began pulling things out of my pack--and realized I'd left the novel at home. I have three copies of the damned thing, and I didn't remember to put even one of them into the pack. Oh argh. I hate to admit it, but I actually made use of one of the (badly reproduced) PDFs of the novel available online. The PDFs are riddled with errors (and Ursula says trying to get them off the net is like Whack-a-Mole)--but in this instance, it did help. I also considered decamping to the library, where I could certainly find a copy of the book to use (or I'd hope so, any way), but I was comfy and wanted my tea.

I also got a brilliant response from Ursula yesterday, in response to my questions about some of the teensy details in the novel that I wasn't sure about. I reproduce it verbatim:

While you teach these kids to read this book, you are teaching them to read books. . .  not to snag at everything they don’t understand, but to sail on, and have confidence that it will make sense.  Right?   It’s exactly what I had to learn when reading in a language I was still learning:  At some point, you set the dictionary aside and just sail on through, understanding MOST of it.  And as I write about it, I’m thinking, isn’t this exactly what babies do, what little kids do, how learning works? — you make do with what you have, and sail on as if you understood the rest. . . .  And the point comes when you DO understand [how to walk across the room without falling over] [how to keep Jimmy from hitting you] [that parts of novels may be there not to represent but to suggest something]  Right? 

Of course, she's absolutely right. I responded to her, saying that I'm perpetually trying to find the "Goldilocks zone" in my pedagogy: the balance between giving student enough support that they'll stay (in edu-speak, I'm aiming for "persistence and retention") and making sure they actually do learn "sail on, and have confidence that it will make sense." I have my theories for why students don't have that confidence, and why it's so incredibly difficult to instill. It's easy to blame the testing system: students are tested, told they screwed up, and then just hustled along to the next test, without ever being able to go back and grasp the stuff they didn't get. In addition, as I said in a post much earlier this year, they think education means having a widget of information that they can plug into the correct slot: education as factory work, not actual intellectual exercise.

And reading--real reading, of real material, for real purposes--requires intellectual exercise. Freak out! Panic in the streets! Squirrels under the trees, shy and spook and buck!

So what I've spent most of the time working on today is not so much moving forward with the glossary but working within it, adding notes about how to understand some kinds of information and why other kinds of information are vague and/or missing--and eliminating the places where I was reinventing the wheel. (Le Guin provided an explanation of the Gethenian calendar and clock: why am I pulling the information out of it for my glossary instead of just referring students to what's already there?)

I could get on my own case about not being productive enough, but my mood has been very up-and-down of late, so the fact that I worked at all today is sufficient. I'll get as far as I get in whatever time I have--and I'll do my best to focus on the absolute blessing that this sabbatical has been and is, and will be for a while yet. It ain't over 'til it's over. I don't hear any fat ladies singing just yet. So, on we go. Pick your favorite "tomorrow" quotation.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

dribs and drabs

I got a little work done yesterday before I took off for my riding lesson (glorious!). I've gotten a little work done today, despite ferocious resistance from whatever part of my psyche it is that would infinitely prefer to lie about on the sofa, reading (relatively) crappy novels and eating bon-bons (Russel Stover "Nut, Chewy and Crisp Centers" by preference).

I had to send off another slew of minor questions to Le Guin today, and I realized both how much of the novel I've never bothered to figure out with any specificity--because it doesn't matter to understanding the real meat of the novel at all--and how much fun it is to figure it out with great specificity (or to get Ursula to explain to me what I can't figure out). I'm getting to this level of specificity for the benefit of students, of course: my analogy is that they're rather like horses, who will spook at anything unfamiliar until they understand it (which, with horses, means they have to walk around it and look at it from every angle and sniff at it, bump it around with hoof and nose, investigate it as thoroughly as a horse can). Students who "spook" at unfamiliar words and terms also, sadly, lack the intellectual ability to sniff and bump and investigate, figuring things out from context--but they also can't just let it drift past. "What's that?!? No, what is it?!? I'm not going anywhere until I know what it is!!" My job is to lead the student gently up to it, explain it: "Look: it's just this. See? This is what it means, how it works, why it's there"--and then the student can keep reading, although frequently with that little bit of white, rolling eye that a horse will use around something that still seems potentially threatening.

(Side anecdote: the worst unintentional dismount of the literal kind that I've experienced to date was because the horse I was riding could not, absolutely could not, handle the fact that there was a squirrel running around a tree next to the ring. Horse: "There's something over there. It's making me very nervous." Me: "Look, it's just a squirrel." Horse: "OK, I guess. WAIT!! WHAT'S THAT??" Me: "It's still just a squirrel, same squirrel. Let's just ride right past it." Horse: "OK, I ... YIKES!! WE'RE COMING AT IT FROM ANOTHER DIRECTION AND I STILL SEE IT!! IT'S OUT TO GET ME!!!" Me (lying on the ground): "Ow.")

But even though I'm doing this for the students' benefit, I'm loving it. Geek alert: I love that I know how the political divisions of an invented nation work, and how titles and honorifics are handled, and all those minute details. I'm just a teeny bit like the SF nerds who can cite chapter and verse of every episode of the original Star Trek and all it's later spin-offs, along with the movies.

I haven't, however, found the proper moment yet to listen to the first half of the BBC's radio adaptation of the novel. I'm not good at just sitting still and listening--and it's hard to listen and pay attention when I'm doing other things. Still, it seems important to be able to comment intelligently on the adaptation--and I wish to hell I'd seen the stage version. (Maybe someone in NY will decide to bring it Off-Broadway: that would be a grand opportunity.)

In addition to the little bit of work I did today, I also did a little bit of campus-related stuff, specifically preparing the course preference forms for spring 2016. I'll meet with the members of the scheduling committee right after spring classes end in May, and we'll create the schedules--which Bruce will then adjust as people decide to retire (or not). I'm trying to stay as clear of campus, and especially of campus politics, as I can: even though I know it would probably be a good thing for me to attend tonight's Board of Trustees meeting, it seems better--for me as a human being--to stay away. I'll get sucked into the whole political mess soon enough, and I'm still trying to protect my precious sabbatical--even on the days when I don't want to work. I'm not on campus; I don't have to attend meetings or work with students. That's precious, so even if I squander some time on the books-and-bon-bons routine, I still consider that a beneficial aspect of the sabbatical process.

And so that's it for today. I'm not sure what I'll do with the balance of my evening, but I'm glad that I'm heading into that part of the day, when I get to figure out what I want to do next. The rest? Tomorrow. There's always tomorrow. Ain't life grand.

Friday, April 10, 2015

unintentional dismount, then back up again

Some of us in equestrian circles call it an "unintentional dismount" when we're thrown or otherwise fall off the horse. In keeping with the title of my last post, I figured I'd use the metaphor to indicate that I'd been briefly in the saddle but didn't stay there: yesterday was a rotten day--perhaps because of emotional blow-back from the political insanity on campus, but in any event, I got essentially no work done: couldn't concentrate even enough to work on the glossary (which, quite honestly, doesn't require a great deal of heavy lifting, intellectually speaking). I've done better today, despite feeling physically crappy: I finally addressed that last critical source and have officially signed off on that first draft (stick a fork in it, done).

Having finished that, I've turned my attention back to the glossary--which led me briefly back into the "Science of Science Fiction" chapter. I felt a moment of anxiety, realizing that chapter wasn't as close to a completed first draft as I'd remembered. (Memory is very conveniently forgiving sometimes: "Oh, I don't need to worry about that any more." Oops.) But actually, it's helpful to sort of work back and forth between the glossary and the other chapters, as I am reminded what the book calls for. In this particular instance, I realized I needed to say something about the reference to a "sonic gun," and rather than spend a lot of time in the glossary explaining how/why sound waves could be dangerous, it's easier to simply send students to the Science chapter and get into it there.

Before I got to work today, however, I found myself impelled to touch back in with some stuff on campus, the committee stuff I can't quite let go. I don't remember if I mentioned that, along with the bad news about seminar hours on Monday, we also got the departmental election results, and I was not re-elected to the one campus-wide committee I've been on, despite the fact that I was rather deeply involved in some issues that committee is handling (having to do with withdrawal procedures, that sort of thing). That felt like a slap in the face, I have to admit--and I'm frustrated that I won't be able to follow through on the work that I'd started. (I did get re-elected to P&B however: that was good news.) But since I'm still the Queen of Scheduling for one more year, I realized I need to get the preference form for spring 2016 schedules out to faculty soon, so the other members of scheduling and I can do that work after the semester ends in May. And since I believe I'm picking up my duties as Evening (read "Adjunct") Supervisor as of summer, I asked Bruce's assistant to find out when he wants me around to help and what he wants me to do. All that was required was a phone call, but next week I will head to campus to return the book I just finished up, to get the materials for the spring 2016 preference forms--and maybe to check in with Bruce, if I haven't heard back from his assistant.

I just can't seem to keep away from the place.

Ah well. For at least the next few weeks, I should be able to stay pretty clear of the morass (emphasis on the "ass" part) that is NCC. There is a meeting of the Board of Trustees (in whom we have zero trust, I might note) on Tuesday; Paul plans to sign up to speak about the seminar hours thing, and I'm very much on the fence about whether to put myself through the emotional upheaval of going to the meeting, and if I go, whether to put myself through even more emotional upheaval by speaking. I keep trying to figure out what I'd say, but it's awfully hard to address remarks to people who have zero interest in listening. I can do something about that in my classroom ("get out"), but I can't do much about it in a BOT meeting. But like many many educational institutions, we're under attack, and I feel I should be in those trenches, too, doing my part for the war.

Well, that avenue of thinking is absolutely bound to get me worked up, so let me take a different path here. I have no grand ambitions for this evening; I'm just going to try to treat my body a little better than I have the past two days. I probably won't get much if any work done tomorrow, what with various life-maintenance things on the docket, but on Sunday, the first part of the radio play of the novel will be available on the BBC Radio 4 web-page, so we know what I'll spend part of Sunday doing.

As for now, a quick check of e-mail to see if anything fun is going on, then I pack my bags and leave Coffeed, since they're about to close. And tomorrow is, you know, another day or something.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Back in the metaphoric saddle

Despite the social event yesterday that significantly truncated my working hours, I did make some headway before I had to leave--and I put in a reasonable stint today. I'm still feeling idiotically anxious: it's fascinating to watch the swings between "I'm doing great; no need for worry" and "OMIGOD! I'll never, ever, ever get enough done!" I suspect that some of the panic arises simply because I'm in some strange way addicted to panic. It does provide an adrenaline rush, after all; perhaps in that sense my period panics are actually beneficial (albeit uncomfortable), insofar as they provide energy and impetus to work. I am fully aware that I don't have a "neutral" gear: I'm either doing the sea-cucumber impersonation or I'm racing full tilt; the only in-between is when I'm trying to transition from one state to the other, which--as I've noted many times--is a process very much like a semi gearing up or down: it takes a good stretch of road and a fair amount of time to get from "balling the jack" (as my aunt would have said) to something approaching calm. Using characters from A. A. Milne for their metaphoric value, I am a cross between Rabbit and Piglet, with little touches of Roo thrown in.

The big news of the day actually has nothing whatever to do with my own work: thanks to one of the valued members of my cheering squad, I have been alerted to the fact that tomorrow there will be an interview with Le Guin on BBC Radio 4 (which broadcasts online), and this Sunday, an adaptation of The Left Hand of Darkness will begin airing: I've listened to the previews: one was deeply satisfying; the other frustrating. There's also an odd and highly intriguing little video clip (which is how the thing was brought to my attention): I immediately recognize the scene from the novel, but I have the same problem with the visuals that I have with the audio. They've got one of the main characters just flat out wrong. I've probably annoyed Le Guin no end by writing rather lengthy e-mails to her about it (not because of what I have to say, but because of the length of the e-mails: she's a busy woman)--but I'm very protective of her work in general (and almost every adaptation has been wildly, abysmally wrong), and since I'm so deeply immersed in this particular work, I'm especially protective of it.

Interestingly enough, I recently was in conversation with someone about my project and was subjected to some pretty heavy pressure to write a screenplay of the novel. The pressure was well-intentioned, motivated by a desire for enthusiastic publication and reception of my project--but it demonstrated how little people know about, well, anything other than their own little fields, usually. First, despite my years as an actor, I have absolutely zero idea how to write a script of any kind, especially a film script. Second, although I grant that I know at least two film-writers, but I'm not certain that either of them would be ready, willing, and able to do an adaptation of a novel (and that novel in particular). Third, even if one of those film writers wanted to take it on, there is the whole issue of who owns the rights. Fourth, even if the rights could be secured and the script written, I have absolutely no way to get such a script seen by anyone who could get the film made. Finally, even if all of those things were to happen--there's still no guarantee that the film would do justice to the novel. I'm absolutely not the person to be involved in any of those steps: when it comes to Le Guin's work, I'm a devotee and a scholar. Period.

Still, it is pretty nifty that the Beeb is doing the adaptation right now: that raises visibility for the novel and might make my project a little more visible (and desirable for publishers) as well. And I will indeed listen to the interview and to the adaptation--and will try to approach the adaptation with an open mind and a desire to be persuaded that it works. After all, Le Guin herself approved of the stage version, which had the same "problem" with the main character that I see in this new adaptation, so....

In terms of the impact on my work, I will take some time to listen to the interview with Le Guin tomorrow: maybe I can glean something of value for the project, and even if not, it's just a delight to listen to her being brilliant and unassuming and humorous. I imagine that means I'll probably work from home tomorrow, at least for a while. I just need to set that timer so I remember to get up and move around occasionally....

And I plod along. Don't know whether I'll switch gears tomorrow and finish up that last bit of the annotated bibliography or keep on with the glossary--or maybe really shake things up and work on the themes stuff--but sufficient unto each day is the whatever I end up doing.

Now, I'm beginning to slow things down: I titled the post with a saddle metaphor, so instead of saying that I'm downshifting, I'll say I'm slowly reining in, preparing for an (intentional) dismount.

Monday, April 6, 2015

galloping anxiety

So, for various reasons, I just went five days in which I got essentially zero work done. Today was bumpy because my house-cleaner showed up several hours early, so I started the day feeling flurried and fussed. I got some good work done despite the flurry and fuss--but tomorrow I have a long-postponed social engagement that will take me out of the house during the "hour of power" in my work day, and although I plan to get as much work done as I can before I have to leave, I'm still feeling jittery and breathless and wild-eyed, that nasty voice in the back of my head saying, "You're running out of time! You'll never finish!"

Let us pause for a moment to observe that I hear exactly the same voice saying exactly the same thing at about this time of semester when I'm teaching. I always manage to get the work done for school. I have to try to inculcate a belief that the same will hold true of the sabbatical project.

I honestly don't know how much more time I can allow myself before I start doing some kind of semester prep for the fall--and wondering just how difficult it would be if I didn't do any at all before summer. Maybe not before August. I feel myself starting to hyperventilate at the thought, but if I can recognize that I almost invariably react to a new system or idea with unbridled panic and then step outside the panic to evaluate the situation more reasonably, I don't see any particular reason why I can't do that. In fact, that used to be my usual procedure: I'd start class prep in August, and somehow, I always was ready on the first day of classes. I've just gotten used to the sense of freedom over the summer when I can get the bulk of my class prep done before May, so I can just do the usual insanity of adjunct scheduling with Bruce at the end of August and know that everything else is already nailed down.

There are good reasons to wait, too, primary among them that I may not know until the nth hour whether my MDC course is going to run. (I just checked: fall courses are still "view only," so registration hasn't started yet. Breathe, TLP: there is no data yet of any kind.) Plus, after talking with William the other day (one of the days in which I got no work done), I realize that I should wait until I can get a read on the class before I get too sure what I'm going to ask them to do: I could have students who are in remedial classes in there (that is, unable to read or write at even the most basic college level), and I need to be able to adjust accordingly.

But of course, even as I splash around in the joys of the sabbatical project, part of my mind is already beavering away at classes for fall, especially the 101s. (Or 101: if MDC runs, and if I get reassigned time to work in Advisement again, I'll only have one section of 101.) And fussing about seminar hours.

OK, OK, OK: I'm going to put all that aside for now. Let me talk about the sabbatical project.

I did another whack through the socio-historical context chapter, and I feel like I have a reasonable first draft finished. That's a lovely thing to have checked off. I finished that sitting at Dunkin Donuts today, then walked to the library and got back to the glossary and pronunciation guide. I have the one book to look at for the annotated bibliography still hanging over my head, and other unfinished bits include the "Themes" chapter (which right now is mostly jotted notes of themes to mention) and my own essay about the theme "loyalty and betrayal." And the glossary, of course, but that's proceeding apace.

What would thrill me no end would be to have a first draft of everything--no matter how rough a draft, just something with a beginning, middle and end--by the end of this month so I can spend May on revisions. That would be wonderful. Even thinking that it might be possible makes me feel slightly less hag-ridden with anxiety.

I probably could have gotten a little more done today, but I had the usual problem of working in the library (feeling welded to the chair and permanently affixed in seated position: I feel like the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz, needing the oil can), so I packed everything up to walk home. I'd intended to get a little more work done from here, but my sleep patterns are still a bit disrupted, so I'm hitting the wall. Of course, some of that may also come from the fact that it is a glorious spring day outside--finally, after what felt like several years' worth of winter--and my mind (and body) want to play hooky. The rest of this week is supposed to be rainy and increasingly chilly (oh boy what fun); I hope that provides incentive to stay in and work instead of simply being a terrific reason to take many long naps.

But I'm not going to worry about what the next days might or might not be like. Today, I got some good work done. That's what I want to hold on to at the moment: today was reasonably productive. I'll take it, and gladly.

Friday, April 3, 2015

running on fumes

The last two days I've been way more physically active than usually on much less sleep than usual, and today, it's hitting me pretty hard. I wanted to get at least a little work done--and I wanted to get at least a little work done on the less-fun parts of the project in particular. I've spent about two hours on the socio-historical context--and I'm afraid that's all I have in me for today.

The main realization of the day (other than the fact that I need a little recovery time) is that I have to be on guard against my "information junkie" tendencies. This is a problem in my assignment sheets, too: I tend to want to give my students every little teeny bit of information--and it doesn't work. All I'm doing is taking their attention down a whole bunch of little rabbit trails in the underbrush, and they lose the main idea. My mind works that way: I can wander off the path repeatedly and for extended periods of time and always find the path again. But it doesn't work in a learning situation. (Or, perhaps I should say, a teaching situation.) I need to make sure the main path is clear; the students who are ready can find their own little rabbit trails.

So in the socio-historical context, I think I can use a much broader brush. All the students really need is an overall sense of the general shape of things, not all the fine details. That should make the work easier for me--and in some ways it does--but it's a little like figuring out reading assignments for a semester: my problem is always figuring out what to leave out, as I always have more possible material than students can possibly handle. That's the problem I'm running into with this socio-historical thing: the problem isn't deciding what to include; it's deciding what not to include.

Right now, however, I can't decide much of anything, so I need to put the whole thing down until my body has had a chance to recharge (brain doesn't function well if body isn't functioning well: our brains are part of our bodies, doncha know). So, tomorrow. I hope.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015


I've gotten a pretty good run at the work today, and I still have some time before I have to pack things up to head into the City to dance, but I'm starting to get physically restless. I've been working at Coffeed, my favorite of the coffee cafes here in town, but I drove to the area from home instead of walking it, as I usually do: adjustments to allow for the maximum amount of work and still dance. I decided not to try the cafe options in Manhattan that I researched yesterday; I'm not sure why, as the transit time is the same whether I do it between work and dancing or before work, but somehow this felt more efficient. Maybe I was simply unconsciously smart enough to know I'd start hitting the wall at about this time of day, no matter where I am: this way I can travel when my mental acumen is starting to slip instead of being on the train during peak work times.

In any event, I don't have much to report. I'm just cranking away at the glossary and pronunciation guide, and sort of semi reading the novel as I go. I'm not reading with great attention at this point, and I'll certainly have to go back through more carefully when I get back to working on the essay about loyalty and betrayal.

And it's hitting me again just how big this project is, how much work I "have" to do, and how little time I have to do it in. Result: anxiety attack. Again.

Breathe, Prof. P, breathe. Deep, cleansing breaths.

I also realized I brought everything I needed for my work stint and everything I need for dance classes (tango and west-coast swing, if all goes as planned), but I didn't bring a "popcorn" book for the train rides to and from. So, I'm going to handle the "I'm restless" factor and the "I need something to read" factor at the same time: I'm going to close out this (for me) very brief post and trot off to the library before I have to trot to the train station.

OK, I won't trot. I'll simply walk with vigor and intention. Off I go.