Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Public Service Announcement for new lit. ABDs: Subheads Are the Fucking BOMB!

Now I know that every time I try to give advice to anybody through this blog there is an outcry of complaint and indignation, but this helpful tidbit I have offered to two fellow grads now (in a shorter version) and it has worked. And I am writing from a very good place at this moment, stuffed full of delicious chips and salsa and getting a buzz off those lovely carbs, so I am feeling magnanimous with the advice. Avuncular, even. (What would the term be for "aunt-like"? hmm.) To everyone else who is not newly or approaching ABD-ness: be warned; I'm going to talk about writing. And there will be Bizarre Metaphors.

First of all, writing a dissertation seems scary, if you don't approach it right. It is totally different from the earlier aspects of grad school, which involve taking courses and exams and writing seminar papers --- all of which bear some resemblance to the undergrad or MA experience. But after you pass whatever exam allows you to go ABD (all but dissertation), you are thrown into a situation with very little in the way of deadlines, or markers, or guidance. You might even feel a bit adrift.

But don't worry, just because you don't know how to start or where to go. You actually know a lot more than you think you do. If you start thinking about "writing a dissertation," you may actually paralyze yourself with fear. You should never think about "the dissertation" ---- save the big-picture view for the rare moments when the light is just right, the planets are aligned, and you are all aglow with the pleasures of some recent academic accomplishment. Instead of a panoramic view, you will need to develop protective tunnel vision. Or those blinders they put on horses to make them less skittish when they pull the milk carts. Or maybe the mirrored shield that allowed Perseus to slay the Medusa. (Someone please, stop the metaphors!)

Anyway, you think you are at sea, but you've actually weathered the big storm and made it safe to land by the time you are officially ABD:

Note that I didn't say it would be easy after this point. Oh look --- while your advisors aren't here, they left you some helpful tools!

The trick is to just jump right in to work. The longer you wait to start writing, the more daunting and big the whole task becomes. That's where the magic of subheads come in. Dissertation? --- big and scary sounding. Dissertation chapter? --- still big and scary. How long are they supposed to be? I don't know how to write one! But, by this point you are an old hand at taking seminars and writing seminar papers, right? If you break up your chapters by three or four (or maybe even five, depending on the lengths you want) subheads, then you can think of one as being just like writing a seminar paper --- you can handle a little ol' 15-pager, right?

Don't even think about the whole diss or other chapters or the other subsections at the moment --- just pick up your main text for the chapter and start bashing out some close reading. One friend took almost a year to start writing. "Why don't you just start freewriting on Major Text?" I asked. "Find some patterns and start writing about why MT interests you in relation to ---- what is it, the sublime?" "But I need to know everything about the MT and the concept of the sublime before I know what my argument is," replied the friend. "No, no ---- write up a bad seminar paper ---- even five pages. Then start making a list of what specific things you need to prove your argument and what things you will be expected to be familiar with in your footnotes. After you get about 6 or so things on your to-do list, start getting them and mixing them in (don't make the to-do list so long that you paralyze yourself though)."

Of course, you won't keep that first freewrite. (I didn't tell my friend that) It will disappear at some point of the revisions. It's just that knowing you have already started and have some pages is a great motivator and helps break you out of paralysis. Just keep focused on the little, small, do-able tasks, one foot in front of the other. And before long you are a paragon of industriousness:

Almost before you know it, you will be deep in the work of writing and will scarcely notice the time passing. Now, since dissertation-writing time is very unstructured, you should diligently keep track of your schedule and progress. Find whatever time-management systems work for you and implement them: I should add that for some people, the isolation of working alone on the dissertation for such a long time can make them skittish and unused to dealing with other people, so you might want to take steps to prevent that.
Eventually, you'll be finished with this trying time in your life and able to move on to bigger and better things, like working as a tenure-track professor. Which entails, um, I think, traveling through Spain and slaughtering hundreds of wolves. I wouldn't know; I haven't gotten there yet.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Flaming Cheese Productions

It's so weird to be on the job market and in school and then go look up on Sitemeter where my readers are coming from. Hey, I've been there! And there! Ooh, I went to school there! And there! (I've gotten hits from all the UCs except UCSF now; maybe I'll start keeping track of the CSUs, just for kicks. I have only visited half of the UCs and less than a quarter of the CSUs; part of me wants to do a road trip just to collect the complete set. I'm all about complete sets, people.)

Then you get the slightly paranoid feeling: ooh, I applied there, and there, and there, and last year I applied there and there. Are these future colleagues (or maybe future application rejectors) reading my blog? Should I censor myself or start talking about how hard I work instead of pie and how well I procrastinate?

There's also a strange reaction I have when someone from one of the "real schools" like Yale or Hahh-vad has been reading: wait, surely everyone there is too busy creating cold fusion or being fed peeled grapes from the hands of adoring undergraduates to actually do something as mundane as read an academic blog! Just the fact that I call them "real" in my head first thing says volumes about my assumptions about class and academe, assumptions which may or may not be completely fucked up. But those are my thoughts, so there it is.

Having been around a while, I also get a jolt of recognition whenever a school that one of my grad colleagues has gotten a job at pops up. Ooh, look --- someone I know works there! Chances are slim that this random visitor is even in the English department, but it makes me happy anyway.

Ever since I wrote that post asking for help on writing a teaching philosophy (a belated thanks to everyone for the advice, by the way), searches that bring people here have been boring, all consisting of "how to write a teaching philosophy statement for ________" Bleah!. But I have been keeping track of the search phrases that pleased me for a while now, including the title of this post. If ever I start a production company, I swear to you, that is what it shall be called.

And since there's not much going on in my life right now, I thought I'd share some of the most interesting search strings from my sitemeter:

  • eating strange things
  • stupidest question in the world
(I wonder what that would be, anyway? I know about the funniest joke in the world, but...)
  • the rocks in my head
  • is a B minus a bad grade
(answer: that depends. Thanks for joining us on Dr. Cog's Advice Hour!)
  • “win a pre-paid cremation?”
  • lust in leather
(Ooh, I think I didn't live up to what you were looking for, luv.)
  • food poisoning puke
(why yes, that is what grad school can be like)
  • in grad school behind on work can't motivate
(So you came here to hang out with me? Pass the chips and the remote.)
  • hot patterns drainpipe pants
(niiiiice. Reminds me I need to have my 80s party still.)
  • can you hand in a paper late in graduate school
(don't do it, man! the spring I took an incomplete created the wost summer I ever avoided writing a paper in.)
  • is burning rubber smell sign of a brain tumour
(uh, wrong kind of doctor here. Good luck with that one, dude)
  • sculptures made out of everyday objects – pictures
  • should i feel stupid about failing phd field exams?
(stupider than having to google search about it? I kid, I kid.)
  • rabbit stuck in couch
  • Foucault corporate control
(from --- creepy!)
  • "i love lucy" ignoring the signs of impending trouble
(from the State of Georgia board of regents web site… someone has to fill me in on this, including what it has to do with me…)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Avoidance Maneuvers

So, I'm back in my apt again and dealing with all the little crap that returning entails --- things are being unpacked, and cleaned, and cooked, and moved around, and avoided. Mostly the laundry is being avoided along with some mending, but I am also avoiding the job wiki. (Good going, kid! Keep it up and your sanity may yet return!)

I am also avoiding the dissertation, which is not so good. Like usual, I overplanned my trip to my parents' and brought along more stuff than I could do, both academic and not (witness the mending) and then spent the long weekend talking to family, vegging in front of the tv or computer (or both at once) and generally doing nothing. Not that this is a bad thing, esp. the whole reconnect-with-family thing, but oddly enough all that vegitating did not put me in a bright and cheerful up-and-at-em mood that would make me tackle my dissertation. Actually, it just made me want to vegitate longer. Now that's counterproductive. If anybody finds my mojo, please return it.

(Side note: Inside Higher Ed linked to me today, I see --- meaning that I got a huge number of hits without having any new material on the page, and in fact, while driving across California and away from the computer. I don't think my post on Scum Letters is one of my better ones, but what the hey. (Slow week on the web, or was the IHE compiler phoning it in this week? Who knows?) But anyway --- welcome, new people! This is actually part of my diabolical plan to lure you in and bore you to death with the trivia of my life. Hop in, the monotony's fine!)

I hope that I will magically put myself back in the mood tomorrow morning --- my plan to finish at least a solid draft of this chapter by MLA seems to be melting in the air. See that word counter moving over there to the side? Neither do I.

When I worked that one morning (Thurs? Fri? I'm too lazy to check my post) at my parents', I spent the majority of the time reviewing what I had and re-familiarizing myself with it, and I think that needs to happen yet again, now that I am back in my usual work place. This means I've "rebooted" my thoughts on this chapter at least 3 times now this month. Gah. And worse, each time I do that I run the risk of coming up with a new and different (or just wrong) throughline argument for the work, depending on what I've most recently said or read or seen. (For example, I saw Shooter with the fam and ranted about it and now I run the risk of making my chapter be entirely about why libertarians suck. This has nothing to do with my topic. But I just may blog about it, if I can do that without it derailing my actual chapter argument.) How to balance being disengaged enough from the world to really focus on what I need to write, while not being so disengaged that I feel like I'm living under a rock and I make myself so depressed I can't do any work? (In other words, I need to roll my rock not hide under it, heh.)

(Other side note ---- we need to be balanced or else the craft will tip over ---- it's been awfully silent on the request-for-more-materials front. Now, search committees, you had off for Thanksgiving and I didn't bug you, and Monday and Tuesday to come back and start going through your piles of initial materials. Now can I have some happy emails? Please? I have pie if you want. I also have cake, since we finally celebrated my birthday last night. It's chocolate...)

Now my brilliant plan was to use the writing challenge month to distract me from the job search waiting game. This has backfired. Unfortunately, boring stuff you don't want to do is not actually very distracting or engaging. And not working on the diss, especially when you're feeling at your back the cold blast of debt and the rattle of obligations, and are fully cognizant of being ABD as a detriment on the job search, only serves to intensify your anxiety and depression. On the other hand, cheer up: there's always tomorrow for a change of mood and a new start. After all, tomorrow is ... hmm. What's the quote I'm looking for? "To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow, / Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, / To the last syllable of recorded time; / And all our yesterdays have lighted fools / The way to dusty death."

Hmm. Maybe that's not quite what I intended...

Saturday, November 24, 2007

I'm not in a rural area at all...

So I don't understand why my parents' back yard has become a wildlife habitat preserve. But, it has:

Ok, squirrels, cats, the odd gopher, BFD, I hear you saying. But it is a little more unusual to be adopted by a flock of wild turkeys, especially considering we live so close to the freeway and multi-lane streets:

If I had access to my Photoshop right now I could crop and zoom a bit better for you. I had to run get my camera so the turkey family had time to scuttle to the other end of the yard, and then hide. When I drove up to my parents' house the other evening, there were 30 or so of them roosting on the pointy roof of the main living room. This is a pretty regular occurrence, though only these three seem to have adopted our backyard as a permanent home.

We've been making bad turkey jokes like "a turkey on both your houses" for a while now ... unfortunately if we didn't have opportunities to make bad puns we would invent them, so there's no hope for us. These turkeys must know that we're too suburban as a family to ever bother catching and eating them ourselves, and since my dad hates pets we're probably the only place on the block without a dog to shoo them from the yard.
Anyways, happy holidays from my house, where every day, evidently, is turkey day.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Random bullets of turkey and boredom

  • I am in the land of Ultimate Suburbia, or whatever I last named the place of the parents, and I am thinking about renaming it Mount Boredom.
  • It is turkey day and I have not yet had turkey. Or pie. Mmm, pie. That is because it is early. Sigh. Why is everything about waiting these days? On the other hand, it smells like spices here. Mmm.
  • I wrote for a bit this morning, but I forgot to bring my laptop plug with me, making my laptop as useful as a very expensive brick. I printed out my piles o' stuff I have so far, and then pondered it deeply from inside the Starbucks across the street. It was loud and obnoxious there --- one of the baristas had a voice that could cut through glass. I wrote with my IPod on full blast (skipping the speech-heavy tracks) but could still hear her screeching out "venti half calf no foam extra caramel!" It did not help with producing a Mood of Productivity. I tried writing outside (brr!) but could still hear her outside the cafe. Hmph.
  • I can't tell whether I am on the brink of actually figuring out what this chapter will do "to intervene in my field" or if I am avoiding the slog of splicing argument-sections together by noodling around on an abstract level. Either way, it was all in longhand and so I don't have a word count. But words were written, never fear.
  • Though I have yet to OD on turkey and trimmings, I have already hit my limit. Of TV and TV ads, that is. I think I've gotten so used to being in a protected bubble of non-tv-ness that I can't handle the sudden explosion into cable at my parents' house. It's just too much commercialism at one sitting for me, and was making me depressed after even a short time. For example: the number of different ads announcing "door buster" sales starting, if not at 6, then at 4 in the morning? Madness! I used to like shopping on the day after t-giving, since it was a free day with not much else to do, but the crowds, the starting at 4 am, the thrashed and crazed look of the places when you get in there at 9 or 10 in the morning, the way the crowds of shoppers seem to take pride in being rude and nasty to the retail salespeople and behave in a near-riot --- ugh. Most obnoxious, to me, is the way that these ads, and some of my family and friends of family, behave as if there is no alternative to shopping and crass consumerism on the day after t-giving (or perhaps at all?) --- a weird holiday which is all about gorging yourself anyway. And my niece worked at Mervyn's for the last couple years as an after-school/holiday job, so I've become increasingly burnt out on the way shoppers treat the workers, especially on high holidays. Is there some sort of assumption that after slaving away serving the family on turkey day you get to go out and be served by someone else the day after, and treat them like shit? I don't understand.
  • In other news, there is no movement on the wiki or my email. Unsurprisingly --- if search committees were stupid enough to do work on their holiday weekend, I assume it would be to buckle down under a pile of late grading. But, the waiting still sucks.
  • If I can get them onto my mom's computer, I'll post some pics. Mayhap it's time to call up my siblings and start pestering them.
  • Oh yeah, and I only got here last night but have had 1) the fight about my birthday list (which will soon become the "what do you mean you have no money" fight) 2) the so- why- don't-you-have-a-job-already/aren't-you-done-with-that-damn-thesis- or- whatever-it-is-yet? fight and surprisingly, it looks like we may actually inaugurate a new topic of nagging, the 3) when-will-you-settle-down-get-married-and-have-grandkids argument. I've been spared this one for a long time, being the youngest and having had the advantage of siblings who reproduced and thus spared me the indignity. I just don't really need people ragging on me on three different fronts of my life right now, especially considering I feel so overwhelmed and wait-y (is there a better word?) on the job stuff that I have just shelved the other parts of my life and am not dealing with them at all right now.
  • Finally my dad does not look at all well --- at 78, he's slid from crotchety-old to troubles-with-mobility-and-comprehension old in a way that I really don't like and can't even write about. I'm trying to just not think about it.
  • And the best way to avoid that, I think, is to break out the board games and start annoying my nieces and nephews.

Happy Thanksgiving day all!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Things I Could Do Today Instead of Looking at the Wiki

  • dishes
  • pack for T-giving trip
  • hem new jeans
  • revisit (find) chapter to-do list
    • reread/revise itty-bitty drafted part
    • add on to draft by working on Subhead 2
    • (I did finish reading the Big Influential Text in My Field today though)
  • get presents for my blogger-buddies
  • write a substantive blog post (I have these ideas, see)
  • do I need more catfood? check
  • clean out the folders in my bag (also: clean out two sets of folders at school)
  • finish off last Other Job task
  • email _____ about DVD
  • email other _____ about DVD
  • email Cool Scientist Friend because she's cool, and because I saw her at the bus stop today but she was taking a different bus
  • rent another movie?
  • call my sister and plan holiday break stuff
  • sleep

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Distracted …

I’m in the library … a grad student has no regular hours … well, that and I played hookey with family again yesterday … not including cleaning my place for their visit the day before … someone please shoot the carillon-er; I hate those things … either a bell is mis-tuned or the performer is hitting wrong notes … I can’t concentrate, so distracted … this book is a fascinating topic; why did it turn to pig latin? … distracted … the words on the page swim … they might as well say blah blah interstitial blah blah everywhere … I miss my ex-boyfriend; the insufferable jerk. … no, I don’t mean that … or maybe I do … or what…

Maybe food will snap me back into focus … can you die from too much caffeine? … no, it’s a scattered, not a jittery, distraction … the sky is a wash of gun-metal gray … oh hello, beautiful, you can come home with me … acres of bikes on their kickstands, no locks; why aren’t they stolen? Are there really no poor people in town? … more boys on their skateboards failing to jump the concrete steps … no blood, no broken bones … honey, if you’d cover your tits and your legs you wouldn’t be cold; you look ridiculous with fur boots, mini and your fur hood up; my advice: wear pants … there are sparrows in here, inside the food court … chirp chirp, stab at some crumbs, consider me with a bright little sidecocked eye … why did I order this? I don’t want this … sound washes over me … midway between a bank of Faux News and big-screen football; they blend to a mishmash and wash in and out of focus … Pax Americana … crowds appear to be cheering sprightly blondes announcing regressive socio-economic policies … third-down and our troops may be able make this a real turning-point, make lasting gains if they can only hold damage to a minimum at Basra … now I’ve gone from distracted to sick … glad I didn’t take the super-size only 50 cents more … I throw away the rest of the Ford extended-cab pickup and leave some crumbs for the sparrow … where did it go? … still no sun … eating didn’t help at all, still distracted … my family tells me that Younger Cousin is dating the offspring of someone famous yet again ... he has a facility with that... it's like another planet to me ... why bother? ... at least it’s pleasantly warm in the lib. after that walk rather than oppressively so… girl you’ve got to get over yourself and focus, you have things to do … why did I even get out of my nice warm empty bed this morning?... oh yeah … focus… focus…

Friday, November 16, 2007

SCUM letters

My brother is an engineer. They do things differently. Lately I've been trying to be supportive of him on his job search, while he tries to be supportive of me on my job search, all the while neither of us can really understand the standard industry processes of the other.

(Side note to big bro: Get off your butt and send out more letters already! If you swear to your arch-nemesis that you will never work under him and he dicks the VP out of control of the company, you have made an ultimatum. You need to get out now! Now! Stop feeling depressed and beating yourself up as a bad engineer and really go out there and look.) ---- I can't say a lot of things to his face; he probably has a long list of "just finish that fucking thesis already"-type statements that he never says to me.

So, all this fall I have been trying to explain to my family that academic jobs take, unsurprisingly, an academic year to apply and fill, and that there is an annual "season" to the job market, and also that I can only apply to jobs that have an "opening" posted for someone like me. For my brother, he sends out letters and resumes to all the job ads and openings whenever, because they pop up all the time, year-round, and then sends out query letters and calls to all sorts of places that don't have openings, because if they like your stuff or you suddenly give them an idea, they'll just move some money around and make an opening. (This means I have to keep telling my family that I can't just send out letters to all the Bay Area colleges and they'll make room for me; they need to already have gathered money for a spot, and that spot has to be the same thing I do.)

One thing both our searches have in common though: rejection letters. My bro calls them "SCUM letters" --- as in, "Dear Scum, you sent us a packet describing who you are and what you do, and we think it sucks. Good day." Despite the fact that he gets them year-round while mine usually all clump together at the close of the searches, they feel pretty much the same. I got my first one from this year on the market today. Sigh. I was hoping for an email requesting more materials to karmically balance the universe, but it didn't happen.

Pseudonymous Grad Student over at A Philosophy Job Market Blog has been memorializing his old SCUM letters under the heading "rocking the passive voice" in reference to the way that the search committee manages to evade all direct responsibility for rejecting you. And I must say he's got some doozies there. I saw a bit of that last year, but over here in English, they're much more direct: "I regret to inform you that the search committee has decided not to pursue your candidacy for the position." No passive voice there, that's for sure! Sigh.

The first one's not so bad. In a few months, as desperation mounts along with my student debt and sense of uncertainty about the immediate future, it'll be the day that I get 5 or 6 at once that will really hurt. But let's knock on some wood before then.

(PS --- you know how I love making academic work visible and talking about our non-visible work in a way that it gets acknowledged? Well, check out this pic on APJMB. Good God Damn! It's easier to send out 5 or so apps each day, but then you don't get the visual.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Where was I?

Oh yes, here.

In a highly clever and original method of procrastination (or at least a new iteration for me), I accompanied a fellow grad student on her research. It was fun. It was a beautiful day and I got to go look at things. Old things. But not, god forbid, actually touch them. They made me wash my hands a lot. And I didn't even try to reach for any of the stuff and they were freaked.

I also got to spend time with Namesake, who's one of --- I think four now ---- people in the department with my name. Sigh. Gotta love those super-duper common names. Anyway, I got somewhat caught up on departmental gossip and communed with someone who is just as bitter and pissed-off about grad school and the profession even though not on the job market, imagine that! There must be something about the hardscrabble nature of my dept. that brings out the ressentiment in spades. But it was nice because mixed in with the bitching we talked like we were still in seminars together and I never get the opportunity to just riff with someone on theory stuff anymore. I wish I could get something together with people to do this kind of theory noodling, as it were, but I feel like I always have no time, and we talked about how we both feel so guilty for sitting down and just thinking, or talking stuff through without it being immediately relevant to a deadline or a current chapter or professionalization. Speaking of, I'm avoiding finishing the thing I was working on yesterday, even though it's due tomorrow. Meh.

What I really wish is that I could come in to the Big White Monolith (see above) and sit in the cafe and just write there every day, without thinking about the job market or teaching or overdue bills or anything. It's both so peaceful and so official; I feel like I'm having Highly Important Thoughts every time I sit there. Ideally this would be combined with wonderful and intellectually stimulating talks with fellow grad students every evening as we traded jazz riffs on our theory and our research. It's a bit out of my way, though ... and I don't know quite why work seems so do-able and important there, and so procrastinatable and meaningless here. Maybe I need a better view in my library carrel (like, any view at all). Or maybe it will get better when, soon, very soon, I'm done with the last of my job and postdoc applications. Maybe.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

In a short statement of 300-700 words,

please tell the application board your possible plans for future research, your future plans for possible research, your alternate plans for research, potential plans for alternate research, additional back-up plans for potential alternate research, your personal academic history and development, your disadvantaged academic background, your disadvantaged academic foreground, your methodology, etiology, and theology, significance of your proposed research project and anticipated impact of said project on the profession, complete literature review and comparative history of your profession, relevance of your project to issues such as diversity, multi-culturalism, or communities underserved by traditional academic research, relevance of your project to anything outside the academy, and c), relevance of your research, your education, or yourself to anything at all. Be sure to include a timeline of projected work and a complete budget.

Please note: The review committee may not consider proposals that exceed the word limit.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Well, I did work…

... just not write. So I have no words to add to my word count. I found an article I should have read a while back and in the course of reviewing it, discovered I had never finished reading Important Grounding Historical Text In My Field, so I’ve got to work my way through those before going back to my chapter. IGHTIMF is a huge motherfucker, too --- and did I mention it’s double-columned like a textbook? I have about 300 pages to go still. So, I’m working, but not writing.

Of course, I did a lot of not-working this weekend too. Friday night I went out and celebrated yet another birthday dinner at a fabulous little Italian cafĂ©-restaurant that is under-appreciated here. And Dissertation Buddy and I split a bottle of merlot and also had dessert. Mmm! Very fun. And Saturday, after sleeping in and reading the news and lounging around lazily and then a bit of shopping, I started reading --- gasp! --- for pleasure, and I don’t remember the last time I did that.

I’m now halfway through Ian McEwan’s Atonement, so that I can feel superior when I go see the movie version. (I need to get a copy of The Road, too, but that seems a bit too overwhelming at the moment.) And how is Atonement so far? Meh --- I think I’ve read it before, by someone named Jane or Virginia or possibly Elizabeth. Seriously, I think it’s a solidly-written book; I just don’t think it’s a Great (future?) Masterpiece of Literature, and part of that is the very self-conscious way that it name-checks everybody in the Norton as well as various Historic Personages That Main Characters are Ignorant of their Future Historic Importance And We Find that To Be So Ironic Today. I must admit, I had trouble with that in The Hours and to a lesser extent Kavalier and Clay. And furthermore, it doesn’t seem … strange, in the way really great writing tears you open and leaves you raw and exposed to something new in the world you had never thought about before. Seriously, 30s British Big House literature? What new and amazing insight can we have (or need to have, as a society) about that? Mysterious secrets of the repressed and upper-class? I think I saw that in Picnic at Hanging Rock, which had a much more impressive sense of dreamlike mystery (if weird gender politics and general 70s-ness). So, yeah, I’m liking Atonement but I'm not astounded and amazed. On the other hand, the film looks like it will have beautiful period costumes, and sex, and those are always good for an entertaining movie. I guess I don't set the bar very high for film, unlike lit.

And Sunday I went with Cool Scientist Friend and her boyfriend, The Political Animal, and a bunch of Swedes (don’t ask) to go hiking. It rained on us, which ordinarily I love, especially considering CSF loaned me rain gear. But unfortunately everything was covered in leaves, which then got slickery, and on top of that the trail was rough in some places --- my friends assured me it was just a little tough climbing but really places were more like bouldering, and everyone forgets that it is just much harder for the short little person with short legs and no reach to scramble up rocks her size. Plus I have a bad knee, and am skittish about heights and being on ridges. So the hike was fun except for the embarrassing places where I slowed people down, or they all stood around and said “Now how do we lift Sisyphus over this obstacle?” while I clung to some rocks and a tree root and insisted I could not let go, ever. I’m also quite out of shape again, already, for I haven’t been swimming in a while or hiking in ages, so I was panting and falling behind TPA, even though he was smoking on the hike. (That is totally my style of hiking, though. I’m realizing now that we didn’t actually get out his flask, however, despite his promises…)

We saw quail, but no lizards. (Must not be lizard season anymore.) In places on the trail we smelled fennel --- unless it's anise, or one of those other licorice-smelling herbs. The pat of rain on the tree canopy, interrupted by the occasional cold plotch on the back of your neck, was soothing, and the smell of rain and leaves and sandy earth is wonderful. We only ran into two completely stoned hippy-granola-y hikers (it's California --- it's always stoned hippy season here).

After hanging out at the top (where there should have been a waterfall but we are in a drought yet again) it started to rain harder and we went back down, with my bad knee and the wet path and the steep descent all meaning that I pretty much had to slide down the whole way on my butt. (This is actually a standard hiking procedure for me. It’s hard to fall down when you are already down. Hard, but not impossible.) Obviously I was filthy and tired once we reached the trailhead, which naturally meant that we had to go eat burgers at a local brewhouse. Mmm --- garlic fries and a cold Rincon Red! It was a good close to a day. Except for the fact that it was only 3 by this point, so I took a nap. Now I ache in all sorts of interesting places (how did I pull that muscle? All I did was walk! I'm so out of shape!)

But now, now, dear reader! Now I am hard at work and ready for anything after a weekend spent far away from libraries, job applications and word meters! Now I shall conquer the world!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Moving the Goalposts

Today's writing did not completely suck! Hooray! I am thrilled and pleased. Unlike yesterday, I got out of bed on time and went in to school right away, and unlike last week, I remembered lunch! (Note to self: packing up all your bags the night before really does help.)

I wrote a very rough start to a little paragraph (we'll deal with questions of quality rather than quantity later), boiling down the argument of a couple books and defining their terms and then explaining why they would be important to my actual points. I haven't actually gotten to my points yet in this paragraph, but that's ok ---- boiling down a book-length argument, like reducing a sauce, takes some time. And stirring. No, wait, that's only for the sauce.

If you count the footnotes (some of which are genuine footnotes and some of which are more "yeah, remember to figure out how you feel about this sometime" comments to myself, I wrote about 500 words! Whoo-hoo! That took about an hour and a half, and then I was wiped out. So I ate an early lunch.

Then, of course, I felt all sluggy and sleepy, like I usually do after lunch, and so I did a little bit of errands, tried a bit of reading, toodled around on the internet a bit, and finally ended up typing in more piles of quotes from this other book I will need to deal with. At last, happy in my amazingly-productive-for-me productivity, I called it a day and cheerfully went home early.


You know, I do this to myself all the time. More than anxiety or writer's block, I sabotage myself by upping my goals and increasing my minimums before I ever meet any of them. This morning, I went for a caffeine break almost floating with happiness, wanting to stop everyone I knew and beam at them, "I'm writing, I'm writing!" Twenty minutes later when I hit the word count button I'm thinking only of the 6 or so days this month I didn't produce anything and beating myself up:
Only 500 words? That sucks. You suck. You should produce at least four pages of useful writing today for you to even consider yourself having a semi-decent day of work. And what is this with taking "breaks" for frivolous reasons like "eating" or "going to the bathroom"? You should be sharp as a razor, focused as a laser, and working like a machine, nonstop.
Walking down the halls again I imagine everyone I know coming up to me and saying, "If you worked today, why is your dissertation still unfinished?" Or, "jezus, Cog, how slow are you?"

That's what I've got to stop. Somewhere there must be some useful middle ground between "I thought about my dissertation today; guess I'll go back to bed" and attacking myself because I set impossible goals that are, like the horizon, forever out of reach.

So ... 500 words. That's a good, solid amount of writing for me. Nononono ---- [holds up a hand] Shhhh. Stop. Stop. That's a good, solid amount of writing for me. I'm trying to keep my brain at the pleased enthusiasm level and not let the criticism kick in.


Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Like a rock

That's the thing with writing --- you can have a new and different problem or distracting time-suck every day! Yee-ha. Yesterday I felt I couldn't work because I had the wrong books out and the wrong stuff printed (the grass is always greener on the other side of the dissertation); today I couldn't get the momentum to get moving. It was cloudy and cold (ok, chilly --- I have no weather cred, living in CA) and I was still tired at 7 so I got back under the covers for just an instant and the cats climbed on me and started purring and it was all over right there.

When I finally did get up I tried working at home but quickly realized that most of the stuff I really needed (See? Greener again!) was at school, so I went in. I worked up a rough start of a paragraph, about 200 words, before my tenuous sense of willpower snapped and I started procrastinating in various ways. (Look, my desktop icons are now alphabetized!)

After a while I went back and started a quote dump --- culling through my booknotes and previous notes/outlines and copy-and-pasting anything that seemed vaguely relevant. In the course of this I discovered that a lot of material that I thought I had paraphrased or copied out was not there ... if what I am remembering is actually from those books. Which means that I get to do this "greener" process all over again tomorrow, including the ever-fun "search the library for books you know it has but have mysteriously disappeared" game. It would be nice if I could get 600 words (about 2 pages) tomorrow, but I will be happy with one page.

Did I say the grass was always greener on the other side of the dissertation? I meant moss. You wouldn't believe how hard it is to roll that fucker over.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Bullets of Back-ness!

  • I have returned! I am avoiding many things, including a) laundry, b) the job market, and c) the dissertation chapter (oh, hello Inaweirdmo challenge! I should be on page, what, 10 of my chapter now? Hahaha, that's not happening right now! Seriously, tomorrow we'll talk, chap, but today is for recovery.)
  • So, I have been everywhere! Went over here and then over there and then further over that way; I met with a bunch of old friends and then some new friends and even met some blogger-people and then had a snafu and much drama and then hung out with family members. I also got lost in a) Pasadena, b) Huntington Beach, and c) some random rural part --- the 126? --- of the LA basin that I thought would help me circumvent traffic. Let me tell you that I hate driving in SoCal! Getting lost in the suburban-grid-system- of-stultifying-uniformity is one annoyance, but the parts of LA where 40 zillion highways all cross each other and change their names constantly while scary traffic attempts to kill you brings about new levels of fear and rage. Ick.
  • I can't believe no one took bets on how I would get into trouble; I would tell you about my drama but enough people have suggested to me ways in which I was at fault and not being very considerate so I will not impugn my own character here. Heh.
  • I also think I need to go back on a diet as I spent most of that time eating and drinking various unhealthy things. (I raise a glass to anybody who bought me a meal or a pint.) But visiting family is all about getting as much free food from them as possible ---- I was this close to bringing them my laundry to do, too, like I was an undergrad. Actually, that would have been an excellent idea ---- why the hell didn't you do it, cog?
  • Speaking of, my uncle looks --- old. It kinda struck me. You know, you don't usually see people getting older because it's so gradual, but sometimes when someone gets sick or stressed or grieving they suddenly look much older and more frail, and sometimes they bounce back and look better, and sometimes they just change. So, I'm hoping he gets better --- he can't breathe; it's his nose thing and the air quality and the fires and everything. They rootered him out and put in a "stent" so he can drain --- we went out to eat a lot anyways, though, even though he can't taste much right now.
  • I also hung out with my cousins, which was cool, although they have jobs and seem so settled compared to me. We were fine after I snapped at them when they asked about the job market and if I would be done with the diss soon.
And so now, now I must get back to my dissertation chapter! Expect much angst and whining, people. Except for when I head off to celebrate my birthday, which is soon, unless it's now, unless it already recently happened --- I just take the whole month of November and force people to buy me dinners and drinks the whole month long, with multiple parties in multiple places --- and I will do the same when I go up to see the rest of my family at Thanksgiving. Like a medieval prince on progress, I am. Or perhaps a swarm of locusts. Mmm, locusts!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

On a trip

So my uncle has no nose. Or maybe too much nose, I'm not clear. All that I know is that he's getting his nose roto-rootered out or something requiring surgery, which is putting a crimp in my visiting plans. (Oh, sure, it's nice to be able to see him and see he's ok and all that, but I don't know how cranky and/or unwilling to go out to nice lunch places with us and foot the bill. But all that will be resolved somehow.) Either this will be a good trip, or something out of a Gogol story.

Anyway, I shall be making a little trip and hope to stop by and see many different sets of people. (Waves.) If you're one of the people I'll be seeing, I'll be seeing you. If not, I will regale you, I'm sure, with silly stories on my return. And then I can throw myself into avoiding thinking about the job market by participating in the Inaweirdmo challenge! (Joy.)

In other news, I have returned to a previous Goldfrapp-listening kick. Dear TSA, why can't all of my airport experiences be as soothingly otherworldly as this one?:

Please rectify the situation immediately.


Sisyphus T. Cog

(Everyone else can take bets on what sort of embarrassing predicament I will get myself into in the comments.)