Rudderless

That's how I feel at the moment, anyway – it's a very strange feeling not having anything specific to do.

My grading is done; my teaching responsibilities are over.

Classes don't start until August 25, and while there are some people who argue for a rigorous course of study in the months leading up to law school, the general consensus is that such prep isn't really going to help and that since it's your last summer off for a while, you should probably relax and enjoy it. There are a few things I'd like to read before the fall (including an intro to the constitution, because it dawned on me that I don't think I've ever actually read the whole thing, and I just might want a better grasp on that before starting a class on constitutional law!), but I have no fixed timetable for such reading.

There are more things to do to get the apartment in shape, but some of them (taking empty boxes etc. to storage, buying and installing blinds) need to wait until NLLDH's next day off, and others (organizing a shelving unit) require buying stuff, which I'm trying to avoid doing every single day. I could probably hang some artwork, though I'm not positive we have everything in place yet to be sure of where the artwork will go. (Though some of these reactions are, I realize, excuses for laziness. Plus, it's kind of hot out these days.)

There are a variety of other random things that I need to do at some point, but can be done whenever:
– talk to the financial aid person at my school (though first NLLDH and I have to work out exactly how much of the loan money we want to take)
– get the case of my laptop fixed AGAIN
– take Eldest Cat to the vet to get his bloodwork done (this I am procrastinating on because I was supposed to do it months ago and I feel like a bad cat mama not to have done so yet – so, of course, I will be a worse cat mama and let it go longer because I'm embarrassed – I know, sensible)
– complete a craft project I owe someone
– revise an article I owe for a festschrift
– sort through my/NLLDH's books and sell/give them away

I am finding it VERY hard to do much of ANYTHING, though. What I guess this means is that I really benefit from structure in my life, which is what I pretty much thought, but I suppose it's useful to have it confirmed, because this means I should thrive taking classes again (let's hope!). Until then, though, I sit on the couch and read mystery novels. Kind of pathetic.

Partly, I think, this is because I know that at some point soonish I'm going to have that gallbladder surgery, and there's a weird (stupid) feeling like my life has to be put on pause until that's done. Because, you know, I'm SICK. Even though I feel fairly normal at the moment (thank God, no more gallstone attacks yet – touch wood!), there's part of me that feels fragile and vulnerable, like I should stay in a protective cocoon until I get the gallbladder out. I don't think that part of me is right, but it's definitely part of what's keeping me on the couch. (That, and inherent sloth.)

So. How do manage to get things done when there's nothing structuring your time for you??

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Blogging the lost

The title for this post comes from a line in Dr. Crazy‘s most recent post that cracked me up: she comments that she wishes she could remember where she put her watch, and then says, "This is a bullet of blogging the lost." I can’t pinpoint why, but I LOVE that line.

In any case, this is a post of blogging the lost, the lost in this case being my motivation. I do not want to do the things I should be doing, and I’ve reached the point where if I don’t want to do something, I just don’t do it. Sometimes I feel like there’s so much in my life that I HAVE to do, that it makes it really really hard to do the things I SHOULD do, because I’ve used up all my determination and focus on getting through the HAVE-tos.

For instance, I’m feeling burnt out about teaching. Don’t get me wrong, I still think teaching is incredibly important and that my students deserve my taking it seriously. I still believe, in an kind of abstract, theoretical way, in all my pedagogical principles. But when it comes down to the nitty gritty of planning class day-to-day, I find myself much more concerned by what will fill up the hour than by what will really help the students learn or make progress toward the course’s goals. I want to get through the teaching, rather than actually to do it.

Ironically, my classes this semester are going pretty well. This is ironic not in the sense that "see how well my classes go when I blow things off!" but in the sense that, "whatever’s behind this, I can’t blame my classes/students/their performance." So the burnout is not connected to my particular students this semester – I’ve had far worse groups before (and while I’ve dreaded teaching them, at least I knew it was because of classroom dynamics!). In fact, one class especially is truly lovely, with engaged, talkative, congenial students who seem to be doing lovely things with the material. This class I can usually expect to enjoy. A second class is also really very good, not quite as stellar as the first, but reliably prepared, conversational, and insightful. (The third class – well, it’s a very different demographic, and I find myself bored. Just plain bored. A colleague of mine made me feel better about that today, that it’s not just because I put together a boring class – though of course that might be part of it! – but that the demographics of these particular courses are especially difficult. Again, the students are generally lovely – there aren’t any problem children or anything – and some of them are very very good. And I try to focus on this to have  a good attitude – but I have to confess, the class doesn’t excite me. But while some of that may be them, the greater part of it, I suspect, is me.)

So, on the one hand I’m enjoying my classes, but on the other, boy, do I just want to get them over with. Which is not a feeling I enjoy or approve of. But it’s there.

Of course, I do have to remind myself that if I had stayed at Rural Utopia, I would be on my sabbatical right now. Perhaps there really is a good reason behind those things.

Beyond my teaching, though, I have not TOUCHED my research since turning in various third-year review things in January. (And yes, I think there’s a connection, and in fact, I think that third-year review drove my motivation away, but eh, there’s not much I can do about that now.) This is clearly a problem. I have an essay revision to complete, I have a book proposal to finish, I have a conference paper to write (largely from scratch – new material!), and oh yeah, I have a book manuscript to wrangle into shape. And what do I do? Come home, play on the internet, watch TV, and stay up too late. (Which is what I’m doing now, except I turned off the TV – the first step actually to getting my ass in bed.) I was so proud of myself last semester for working regularly, consistently, even if it was only 30 minutes a day, on my research. I thought I had this whole writing thing whipped – I knew how to balance the teaching/service and research – I had it ALL figured out.

And um, yeah, here I am again.

Sigh.

So I’m blogging this to try to kickstart my motivation (well, perhaps to FIND it first). Tomorrow is another day, as the saying goes, and presents another fresh start. My class prep for tomorrow is relatively minimal. So I will get up and start the day with at least 20 minutes of essay revision, putting it first, before anything else. And cross my fingers that it’s like riding a bicycle – that once I start, I will remember again how I do this.

Academic resolutions

Geeky Mom (who is, by the way, the #1 hit on Google for "geeky mom") had a great idea in a recent post: academic year resolutions (an idea followed up by George and I think someone else whom I can’t find now). I decided that I really needed to do this, to think specifically about what I want to achieve this year, rather than let time slip by me unnoticed, which is what I usually do. After all, the beginning of a new school year is much more of a new start for me than January 1, when not very much changes (even the beginning of spring semester is surrounded by plenty of continuity). However, I think that I need to focus a little more and just stick with fall semester for  the moment.

So, what are my resolutions? or goals/plans?

Teaching:

  • to stay on top of my class prep/grading so that I’m not frantic and I’m not making students wait for their work (plan: to map all assignments/grading into my planner from the start, so I know what’s coming and when things have to be done, and then actually to LOOK at my planner!)
  • to have conversations with colleagues about how I can improve student response to my teaching here (plan: schedule some conversations!)

Research:

  • to make significant progress on the book, by
    • compiling all the book material I currently have written,
      printing it out, putting it (roughly) in order, and seeing exactly
      where I stand
    • writing a book proposal and sending it out to publishers by the end of the fall semester (in time for third year review!)
    • writing/working on my research regularly – at least 5x a
      week (even if only for 15 minutes at a time) (this is a perennial
      resolution, it seems…) (plan: write research time into my planner as
      part of my schedule, as an appointment with myself that I can’t break)
  • to maintain a research profile/agenda apart from the book, by
    • submitting a proposal to K’zoo (and possibly one other conference)
    • revising and submitting the essay that’s been accepted for publication

Self:

  • to make my physical health a priority (plan: cut out a lot – not all, but a lot – of sweets and to exercise at least 3x a week – more appointments with myself!)
  • to track where my money goes more closely, and work on spending less of it (plan: not absolutely sure, but it should probably involve balancing my checkbook more frequently…at least being more mindful of what I’m doing)
  • to continue to work on surviving this whole long-distance marriage thing, and figuring out ways that we can stop being long-distance (plan: still looking for the magic bullet on this one!)

I think I need to print out this list and put it somewhere where I’ll see it regularly (perhaps a few somewheres…). And I’ll check in periodically to report progress (or lack thereof).

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get started….

Okay, I give up

Sorry, CafeSiren, I admit defeat: I have done very, very little on my research today.

I helped my friend move, and didn’t get home from that until 3 (though honestly, it was fun, if moving in 90+ degree heat and preparing for a friend to leave town can really be called fun). Then I took a shower, and read e-mail, which included my eval comments.

So then I decided to bake a cake. (I love to bake. There are cooks, and there are bakers; I am one of the latter. I think it’s because baking is all about following rules. I find it comforting that when I follow the rules, things turn out properly. I even find it comforting that when I don’t, they don’t. The bottom of the cake was a little sticky today, but that’s because I didn’t have the right size pan. When such things happen I feel like the universe all makes sense.)

And then I watched TV. (Wimbledon! Wimbledon! You glorious timesuck, you!)

And talked to LDH on the phone.

And caught up on some more e-mail.

At around 10, I pulled up the chapter I’m working on and diddled around a little bit, enough so that I came up with 219 words. And I think I’m in a good place to start working again tomorrow.

But really, not a hell of a lot done today. And by now I’m too sleepy.

But y’all know what Scarlett says about tomorrow…

Today’s accomplishments

Okay, CafeSiren, since you suggested this…

Today I accomplished the following:

  • 1 hr. walk (I know that for many of you this is probably what you accomplish getting to and from various places, or chasing your kids around, but for me, that’s exercise, folks!)
  • 2 hrs. work on my research
    • ~ 1 hr. writing = 1052 words (they’re very sloppy, but better than nothing)
    • ~ 1 hr. reading/note-taking
  • the purchase of an outfit for an upcoming wedding (at Talbot’s, where there are huge sales, but was what I liked on sale? noooooooo! sigh)
  • the eating of dinner (two ears of corn and a carrot salad)
  • the watching of lame TV and surfing of the web for shoes for aforesaid outfit

I honestly think that’s it. Hmmm.

Tomorrow I’m going to help a friend move in the morning (she’s leaving town, sigh!), so my plan is to roll out of bed, eat breakfast, and go; then come home, shower and grab lunch, and head out somewhere to work (probably the coffeeshop). We shall see how well it works.

What about you, CafeSiren?

Goals: starting the word count anew

So, I’ve decided it’s time to start a new word count for summer (see left-hand margin). If you don’t see listings going up there, you’ll know that I’m slacking off, in which case, please do nag me to get back to work!

For the record, according to my tally for spring semester (which underreported slightly, since I didn’t quite remember to keep track every time I wrote), I wrote 22, 524 words. At 250 words/page, that works out to just about 90 pages. Many of those pages are quite rough, and some were for my Kzoo presentation (which isn’t connected to my book at all), but I’m still pretty proud of myself, because I know I’ve had semesters when I’ve written far fewer words than that. Not too bad on top of teaching three courses. (And while I’m sure some of you have done more/know someone who’s done more, I don’t want to hear about it – let me keep my illusions of productivity for the moment!)

My goal for the summer is to write at least 30,000 words, or 120 pages. My vague sense is that this will work out to about three chapters, but I have to confess that at this point, while I do know what each of the chapters will discuss, the prospect of writing a chapter is much more daunting than the prospect of writing 30-40 pages. So I’m going to keep thinking in terms of pages for the moment, and will worry about putting them all together later.

And now I must go to bed, because I have to get up early for a workshop that goes all day tomorrow. There’s an hour and a half for lunch, so my plan is to do some writing (or at least freewriting/note-taking) during that time, which is how I hope to get my writing in tomorrow. I suspect it will be a nice break from the subject of the workshop!

Friday afternoon inertia, and plagiarism stories

So I’m back at the local coffeeshop, and the coffee was better today (I think they may have cleaned the machine? or perhaps it was just because I forgot to specify skim milk, so I got the full-fat kind? mmmmmmm). And I ordered my usual peanut butter, banana, and honey sandwich (yes, I have such sophisticated tastes), and got three slices instead of two (I think the girl making it screwed up). Not like I really need the extra calories, but hey, extra food. I love the way the honey melts on the toasted bread and dribbles and drools all over the plate, and down my arm.

I am here, in theory, to work on the eternal paper that won’t get finished, although I’ve been here about an hour and all I’ve done yet is read blogs (hey, you can’t actually work when your fingers are covered in honey). But I’m going to start as soon as I finish this post, really I am. I’m still slogging my way through the penultimate revision – this is where I go through and add the bits I’ve determined that I need to add, re-consult the scholarship so I can fill in all those footnotes that say "CITATION??", and try to make it as complete as possible. Then it’s time to print out the whole thing and polish, polish, polish – that will be the ultimate revision. And then it will go in a big envelope with a nice polite groveling letter, and fly away to the journal editor. Who, thankfully, is not the same person to whom I once wrote about the plagiarism I detected in an article from said journal, who did not agree that it was plagiarism. Well, okay, but let me just say that if one of my students had handed in a paper that paraphrased as sloppily as did this article, I would have handed them their ass. But who am I to say?

Since there seems to be a plagiarism theme in my recent posts, let me leave you with my favorite plagiarism story. In my last year at Rural Utopia, I had a student who decided to do her senior project on Robin Hood. She’d taken a class with me in which we’d read Maurice Keen’s The Outlaws of Medieval Legend (originally published ca. 1960), which got her interested. Well, I should point out that she was an EXCELLENT student, and being thorough and dedicated as well as smart, she went searching through WorldCat, where she found someone’s early-1970s dissertation on outlaws, and inter-library-loaned it.

When it arrived, she brought it to a meeting with me to show me that it was a word-for-word copy of Keen’s book.

Anyway, I e-mailed the DGS of the university that had granted the degree, who was HORRIFIED. Given the dates, the DGS hadn’t been there when this person had submitted the dissertation, nor were any of the committee members still there (hell, some of them are probably dead). But he promised that he would look into the matter and that they would begin the process of revoking his degree. I didn’t think much of it for the next few months, until I finally got another e-mail saying that they had managed to track down the offender, and forwarding me the e-mail that the offender had written.

It was one of the saddest things I’d ever read. Apparently the man’s father had died while he was supposed to be writing the dissertation, and he talked about being panicked because his only opportunity for a job (the early 70s not being the best time to be on the market) depended on his being done. He didn’t try to justify this, mind you, he was just explaining what his thought processs had been. (And I don’t think that job even did work out, as there was no evidence that this guy had stayed in academia – there were no traces of academic affiliation, nor did he have any publications [unsurprisingly, I guess!]).

But that’s not really the sad part – the sad part was him talking about how he was actually kind of relieved, that he had felt guilty about this since he’d done the deed, and how he had now had to explain to his wife of thirty years what he had done. (Can you imagine?? "Hi, honey, how was your day? oh, and by the way, you know that Ph.D. I’m supposed to have…?")

Of course, the immediate question this raised for me was: what the HELL was his committee doing?? Now, I suppose I can’t really blame them for being unaware of Keen’s book (though, of course, really I do), as I’m sure we all supervise stuff outside our own narrow specialty, and have to be able to trust that the student is well-trained enough to be able to cover the central works in his/her area. But clearly they weren’t interested in seeing, you know, DRAFTS, or process, or anything like that – because otherwise, how would they explain the going from nothing to fully-formed-and-polished-something inherent in copying a book word for word?

Anyway, that’s my "my student caught a plagiarist" story. Hmmm, maybe it’s worth using as cautionary tale in my classes in future…

Okay, the post is finished, the sandwich is eaten, and I’ve washed all the honey off my fingers. To work!