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maura @ 11:52 am

I’ve taken a few leave days this month to do some research, trying to make more time and space for getting back to my scholarship while also trying to spend down some of my huge balance of leave days before the semester starts (tomorrow!) and things get too busy (lol too late!).

Right now I’m on a big research project with a big research team that’s ramping up for data collection this spring, plus three presentations on the horizon for April, May, and June. I’ve once again fallen off the writing wagon, but in fairness to me I don’t actually have any required writing in the near term. Presentations are different — I do typically create a script for what I’d like to say, which is helpful both during the presentation and after if we’re sharing slides (I try to aim for non-wordy slides). I know I should get back to more regular blogging (and indeed I missed my scheduled week to post on ACRLog <hangs head>), which could both help fill this interstitial time and make it easier to get back to regular academic writing when that time comes round again, as it certainly will this summer when we write up the results of our spring data collection.

While I haven’t done lots of writing and while January has been busy (not just in my own little world), I’ve definitely had more time to think about my scholarship. I’ve also found myself thinking lots about the data left behind, which I blogged briefly about 7 (seven! would not have guessed it’s been that long!) years ago. In particular I’m again coming back to thinking about the photos students took in response to the prompt “the things you always carry with you.”

Students had such interesting responses to this prompt, and I wonder how those responses might be different today. Even before the pandemic I imagine there have been changes. One photo that stands out to me of a student’s communication devices includes a cellphone, digital camera, satellite radio, and portable videogaming system. That photo was taken in 2009, certainly by even 5 years later there might only be a need for one device for all of those uses: a smartphone.

But with the pandemic things have likely changed again. I know they have for me — I now have 3 different setups for the things I carry with me. For short walks around the neighborhood it’s basically phone, wallet, keys in pockets only: usually a smaller wallet with only a subset of items (no coins) and I tend to leave my car key at home because it’s bulky. For longer walks or drives or shopping I bring my regular smallish purse-like bag, which now always has hand sanitizer (in the beforetimes that lived in my backpack). And for going into work at work, which I do about 2-3 times each month (I’m lucky to be close enough to walk), my regular backpack setup has also had a few changes. I bring two full water bottles because there’s no regular water delivery in the library right now (and no water fountains in the library either). I’ve moved the items I need to get into the building — college ID, a pen to sign in, my office keys — and the bottle of hand sanitizer to an outside pocket, to make it easier to manage showing ID plus the covid19 certification app on my phone to the security guard at the college entrance. I usually stop briefly at the bench outside the library’s entrance to get myself ready to go in, it’s a much different process now than the old swipe-card access we used to have.

I’m still so fascinated by those data, the photos students took, memorializing their material culture in 2009-2011. I’m just not sure what to do with that fascination, how to think and write about it. Which maybe makes it a good low stakes writing project for me to tackle — what could I do with that data, other than leave it behind?

les tags: ,

cool before the warm, calm after the storm

maura @ 6:07 pm

As I write this we are finishing up the second of our 2 summer vacations this year. We’ve been to Scotland, which was incredible, and also spent some time visiting family in northern New England.

I am sitting on the front porch (vacation #2) thinking about time. And I realize I have spent lots of my sabbatical thinking about time, specifically the ways in which sabbatical time differs from regular work schedule time. Vacation time is different too.

My friend Emily writes about kairos and library work, often teaching. As Emily puts it, kairos is “time married to action and context,” or qualitative time, as opposed to chronos which is regular clock time, schedules and appointments and hourlong chunks in the online calendar. Sabbatical has been mostly about kairos I think, chronos has faded a bit into the background. Qualitative time also makes sense to me in my own research context, I think a lot about what and where and how people do things with the tools and in the locations and times available to them. So it is not surprising that I would think about my own qualitative time during my own sabbatical context. (Tho yes, navel gazing.)

I have done a lot of reading on sabbatical, mostly fiction but a fair amount of nonfiction too. Reading has always messed with time for me: time slows to a crawl if I’m reading something dull or difficult, or flies by when a book is so engaging that I can’t put it down. It feels like a luxurious use of time to spend a whole day reading, which I’ve done on a few occasions during sabbatical. Sitting on this front porch I read “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang (and the rest of the stories in that collection as well). That’s the story that the movie “Arrival” was based on, a movie I loved though it made me so very sad. (the teen: “why do you [and dad] always cry at movies?” me: “because parenthood makes ya sappy, kid.”) The source material does not disappoint, and I found myself going back to it a few times as I was finishing up the other stories in the volume.

Sabbatical feels like heptapod B time a little bit. I kind of had the whole thing planned out, and mostly it’s unfolded the way I expected. Deviations weren’t too awful, even the ones that were more negative than positive. There was a big structure but I felt sort of floaty in between. Scotland was like that too: we had an itinerary and moved between things to do, but there was some squishiness too. Family visiting is less structured more squishy.

My sabbatical ends in 12 days. Our drive home from visiting takes 6 hours. The commute to work when everything on the subway is working well takes 20 minutes. My walk home takes 40 minutes. The semester starts (almost) 3 weeks after I’m back. My commute to the NYPL to the study room I’ve been using during sabbatical takes 50 minutes.

Now I’m not on the front porch anymore. Now my sabbatical ends sooner than it did when I started this post. Do the number of items on the list of things I’d like to get done before sabbatical ends subdivide and fit neatly into the time remaining? Will I go back to my one hour of research each morning before heading into the library?

I am not ready to go back.
I am ready to go back.
These things are both, at the same time, true.

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out of office

maura @ 10:22 am

I am on sabbatical. This is day 5. It’s weird and lovely and a bit scary.

Last week was a whirlwind of prepping for being out of the library for six (6!) months, a blur of writing up report-type documents and submitting paperwork and answering emails and moving my computer into the conference room so my colleague who’s interim chief can be in my office. I also came down with a bad head cold, and while I did stay home a bit there was too much to do to stay home as much as I would have had I not been about to go out on leave.

(Phew, that last sentence was messy. I need to get back to writing daily, I’m creaky and out of practice.)

Yesterday was a snow day. In some ways sabbatical is like a permanent snow day, but since not only the K-12 schools but also the university was closed yesterday I did treat it as a real snow day. My ideal snow day routine is some fun reading (check), some cross-country skiing in the park (check) and some research-related work (check). It was nice to have the chance to use my eyes on nature and take a break from the relentless awful news.

This week I’m letting myself ease into things. I’ve done a lot of reading. I’m getting caught up on sleep (to the extent that the relentless awful news allows). I went to a workshop about a digital publishing platform I’d like to learn, I spent some time making plans for my research and writing projects in the always-inspiring Rose Reading Room at the NYPL, and I’m meeting today with colleagues to reactivate my recently-neglected research on games and learning.

I’m not used to having this much autonomy over how I spend my time. A few years ago (or maybe more than a few) I started keeping a rough log of where my work time goes, using the three broad categories of librarianship, research, and service. My main reason for tracking my time was to dispel any internal false narratives that can crop up all too easily when I’m busy. I can’t complain to myself that I never have enough time for research if my log shows that I spend 5-10 hrs each week (depending on the time of year) outside of regular work hours on my research. Which it did.

Now my time is 100% research. I do still need a plan and a schedule, especially with several different deadlines over the next six months (and beyond). But do I still need a log? I’m not sure. I imagine I’ll have to wait a bit to see what my internal sabbatical narrative turns out to be.

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floating out on the echo

maura @ 9:08 pm

So as it happens, the hardest thing about writing a book isn’t the writing part. That sounds kind of snotty — like “Oh, writing is so easy for me, I just sit down at the computer and the words stream out of my head through my fingers and onto the screen. And they are awesome amazing words that are perfect the first time.” That never (well, okay, very very rarely) happens — writing is hard work, sometimes very hard. I do all the things that everyone tells you to do: take it bird by bird, keep your butt in the chair for a set amount of time, outline, prewrite, shitty first draft, keep the argument in mind, track of my progress to help motivate me, revise revise revise, etc. But the thing about writing is that, while it’s hard work, at this point I’m old enough and have written enough that it’s hard work that’s known. I know it’s difficult to write a book, but I also have a good sense of the steps and tasks required. It’s challenging — sometimes very challenging — but not an unknown entity.

This is in contrast to trying to find a publisher and get a contract for the book. Which, it turns out, has been really really really hard. Since this is my first book, of course my utter lack of experience with this type of academic publishing is certainly one reason for our difficulty. But there are other likely causes too. Our book isn’t just about libraries, but about commuter students doing their academic work in lots of places. So we’ve sent proposals to university presses rather than library publishers both because they seemed like a better fit and because we’d like the book to be distributed more widely than seems likely with library publishers. It’s been a struggle to figure out how to pitch the book, too, because it’s interdisciplinary and occupies a space that doesn’t seem to have many other published studies. We’re using anthropological methods and theories, but we’re studying higher education, and we do have recommendations/strategies to suggest. So it’s not pure research but not pure policy either. I also think, which has been hard to admit as a recovering academic snob, that we’ve probably aimed too high thus far, sending proposals to fancy university presses that are frankly a stretch for faculty at a public commuter university.

The most frustrating thing about the book thing as opposed to the journal thing is the deafening silence with which proposals are sometimes greeted. I think we’ve finally figured out how to get a better response, which is to send our two-page project overview as an inquiry rather than a full proposal. But it’s taken us a long time to get here. And academic book proposals are MASSIVE — honestly I think the first one we sent in (via postal mail, also not unusual) was over 100 pages including the sample chapters. And when you send something that massive, even the relatively easy ones to those presses that accept submission via email, and don’t ever hear anything back, even after following up, sometimes multiples times… Sigh. I know university presses are strapped — as a librarian, I’m probably more familiar with the contraction of the market for academic monographs than are many faculty in other departments. But it sucks to send a huge number of words that you worked really hard on out into the unresponsive ether.

I’ve also probably slowed us down a bit, too. In my perfect dream world our book would be published open access and freely available to anyone who wanted to read it. We’re working on a website to accompany the book to showcase some of the visual data from the project, and it’d be great if it were easy to connect the two, to go back and forth between them. But books are not articles, and for lots of reasons there just aren’t that many OA monograph publishers yet, especially in the social sciences (things are starting to pick up in the humanities). And we want to go through both peer review and editing, so self-publishing is out. So I think my focus on OA has led us to be too conservative in sending out proposals so far.

Which will change. We’ve revised our original plans somewhat to give the book a tighter focus, and are almost finished with a full draft of the manuscript. We’ve identified some presses that seem like less of a stretch and we have our project overview to send along as an inquiry (along with an offer to send a full proposal). I’m trying to concentrate on looking forward to contacting new presses, as well as the excitement of being almost! finished! with the entire manuscript, and the opportunity to work on the website in earnest once that happens. But it’s hard work with an uncertain ending. Hard hard hard.

les tags: ,

that time again

maura @ 10:21 pm

That’s right, it’s November, the month of writing. Like last year I’m planning to eschew NaBloPoMo in favor of the academic version: AcWriMo. I’ll try not to ignore this blag too much as well, though this has been a low-blagging semester already, so take that with a grain of salt, I guess.

Goals! It’s good to have goals. I’m not going to set a word count goal because I’ve got some deadlines that involve presentations and other non-strictly-writing work that I want to be able to accommodate. Really for me this month should be AcScholMo, because I’m going to count anything I do that’s related to my research and scholarship (as opposed to librarianing or service). This is the first semester since my junior faculty research leave has run out and I am frankly struggling to find time for my scholarship. But I really should be able to fit it in on most days even though there’s always lots going on. At the very least, I have a lunch hour. Right? Right. (She typed optimistically.)

So, my AcWriMo goals for this month include:

– prepping for our undergraduate scholarly habits conference presentation at the American Anthropological Association meetings in three weeks

– thinking on another conference submission due on 11/15

– radical revisions to the book proposal, because we have a new plan (yay for a new plan! related: getting a book contract is hard work.)

– creating a compelling one-sheet description of our book project that we can bring to the AAAs and use when talking with publishers

– once the proposal and one-sheet are done, implementing the radical revisions on the manuscript draft

– is working on the CUNY Games conference a scholarly thing or a service thing? whichever it is, the conference is in January so there will doubtless be lots to do this month

– if I have time, thinking on a possible new idea for a conference proposal that’s not due til January but will take some research to determine whether its truly feasible

There are a couple of potential stumbling blocks too. Thanksgiving, of course — it’s always hard to carve out time for scholarly work when we’re visiting family (and maybe I shouldn’t sweat that too much). Also the 4 days at the anthro conference. I should be able to get some work done on the plane, and with my research partner and I together for 4 days won’t we basically be working much of the time anyway, as we discuss the project nonstop and shop the new and improved book proposal around? Let’s go with yes, and if I end up eating flaming cheese* as we discuss the project then so much the better.

* Because the conference is in Chicago, and apparently saganaki was invented at the Parthenon, a Greek restaurant there. Which I think we went to during orientation week — can any faithful readers confirm that?

ANYway, I’ll check in every so often here, but also will tweet with the #AcWriMo hashtag. Game on!


one two three, some examples

maura @ 9:58 pm

The most surprising thing about the aging process is how it goes through phases of happening all at once. When I turned 40 a few years ago it seemed like no big deal, 40, phhfft, who cares? Things are the same, of course they’re the same, why wouldn’t they be the same? But gradually it’s settled in: aging, it’s for real. All of a sudden my hair is grayer,* my eyes don’t like contact lenses anymore,** and to make matters worse far-sightedness has been added to my near-sightedness, what the what? Of course this is probably only surprising to me — I guess I’d never really read or thought much about the humdrum practicalities of the far side of forty.

* I actually don’t mind the gray at all, never have, though I will cop to a smidge of worry about the nonconformist nature of many of the gray strands. We’ll see how anarchic things get — worst case scenario I will finally have an excuse to see how it looks short, which hasn’t been the case for a long long time.

** After almost 30 years, how could they betray me like that? I used to wear them for 18 hours straight, to a smoke-filled late-night concert, and put them right back in after just a few hours of sleep. And now I can’t wear the plastic see-helpers for more than about 6 hrs at a time. This summer I need to find a good optometrist and explore some options, I think.

Today was another aha moment. Last night I was up late, very late (for me), til about 1am, and I had a touch of the awesome (not) early morning insomnia today so up at 6. And as it turns out, the occasional night of 5 hours of sleep is no longer really feasible if I want to have a productive day. Today was slow. Slooooooooooow. I kept drinking coffee, and it kept not helping. I had a candy bar, because I deserved it. No sugar rush. No rushing of any sort, more like padding down a hallway in soft slippers.

It wasn’t the kind of crushing, I-could-fall-asleep-at-any-moment kind of tiredness that hits you when you’ve done lots of exercise or travel or that kind of thing. It was more the blanket-of-muffle kind of tiredness. Everything seemed a little bit unreal, like I was behind glass. Everything took longer, far loooooonger than usual. It’s not that I didn’t get anything done — I walked Gus to school, finished and crossed a bunch of stuff off my list at work, even went to a meeting. It’s more that I kept losing focus and spacing out, then snapping back to attention.

Today was my least meeting-laden day this week so I’m a little bit sad about this, though not too sad, because I just can’t work up the energy for that. But last night’s waking excess was for a good cause: I’m happy to report that Chapter 6 is drafted and in my research partner’s hands, woo! And that’s worth all the spaciness and wasted coffee money for sure.

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sometimes it’s slow

maura @ 9:09 am

I’m having a lot of trouble writing lately, most specifically writing chapter 6. Partly I think it’s that chapter 6 is the last chapter in section 1 of the book and in the big outline we did at the very beginning of planning the book it was the most fuzzy chapter in that section. The chapter (which we’ve tentatively titled “Fitting It All In”) begins with a discussion of how the students we talked to manage their time. This is a pretty straightforward writing task: grab the data (student quotes) from the relevant codes, pick the best quotes to include and write expository text around them. Not that it’s nothing — writing is never nothing — but it’s easier than the rest of the chapter.

Because chapter 6 also needs to pull together the threads from chapters 2-5 into a coherent discussion of the scholarly ecosystem of undergraduates, highlighting the overall themes of place, tools, and time. And chapter 6 also needs to set up section 2 of the book: a deep dive into student work on research-based assignments which will demonstrate the way the strategies and constraints discussed in section 1 are expressed in a particular type of academic work. And there are other sources to pull in, too, from other studies like ours and from the literature on student engagement and anything else that might be relevant.

Part of the block is my standard internal whining about having enough time to work. Why is writing so hard, why does it take so long, why can’t I sleep less and write more, etc. etc. etc. I’m still looking back at January with regrets, which is silly, really, because despite losing the first week of the month to illness I was still able to finish the shitty first draft of chapter 5 on MLK Day. But then work got very busy and I took a week break from the book and I’m having trouble revving my brain up again. I’m back to taking RT on two mornings each week and it should be enough, has been enough: 3 hours if I can get my act together enough to start just before 8 (I have to leave at 11 to get into work by 11:30). Three hours is nothing to sneeze at, and yet I’m moping around like a teenager bemoaning how there’s just not enough time, oh woe is me. (Ironic, isn’t it, since time is the framework for chapter 6?)

More than anything I think I’m psyching myself out about chapter 6 doing all the things and being perfect and amazing and OMG the best thing ever written about anything ever!!! Which is silly. It doesn’t need to be any of that. It’s not a heavy lift; it’s the same as the rest of the book. It just needs to tell our students’ stories and suggest strategies we think could help them succeed despite the constraints they face. That’s it. The students we interviewed shared so much with us, I just need to make sure their voices are heard.

Writing is slow work, even the easier bits. Back to the best writing advice ever, from Anne Lamott: keep my butt in the chair for three hours. And sometimes it’s okay to write 500 blog words before settling down to write book words.

les tags: ,

a mid-month check-in

maura @ 4:36 pm

It’s just past the midpoint of this month, so I thought this would be a good time to publicly report on my AcWriMo progress. To switch up my usual style, let’s report on the bad news first, then the good.

The bad: I’ve definitely hit the meat of my goal, that is, if you add up all of the hours I’ve spent working on the book so far this month they will average out to more than 2 hrs/day. But I feel like I’m trading on a technicality when I say that, because what I really wanted was to do with my AcWriMo was at least 2 hrs of work on the book EVERY SINGLE day, and more on the days when I could. But this month has been nonstop in so many ways: it’s the busiest time of the semester even in years when there’s not a hurricane. Last week I worked til 8:30pm on two nights and I still feel tired. I’ve found myself doing a bunch of less-than-2-hr days and making them up on days with morning RT or using the conference travel (4 hr train trip each way!) last weekend.

The good: On the other hand, I have done an average of at least 2 hrs of work on the book each day, which is nothing to sneeze at. And I’m pleased to report that today I took the final, completed book proposal, all 133 pages (!) of it, which was lovingly printed yesterday by my amazing coauthor, and delivered it to the post office. It’s now en route to the University of Minnesota Press, woo hoo!

It’s a great feeling to have the proposal finally in the mail. Now it’s time to get back to work — Chapter 2 and Chapters 4-6 are calling my name. Having spent the past 2 weeks revising and formatting, I’m very much looking forward to getting back to writing. Shitty first drafts, here I come!


just around the corner

maura @ 10:15 am

It’s almost November,* which means that it’s almost NaBloPoMo — National Blog Posting Month, a bloggy spin on National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). A quick check of my archives reveals that I’ve NaBloPoMoed every year since 2006, wowza! Through my graduate library degree, Gus’s elementary school years, my job search, and my first few years at City Tech. 148 posts in all, because while I overachieved in 2006 with 31 posts, for some reason I only managed 27 posts in 2010.

* Why is it November? I’m sure I’ve whined about this in the past, but as Jonathan pointed out yesterday, October would be so much better as it doesn’t involve the speedup to the end of the year with holiday prep and possibly travel during the month, and prep for holidays and possibly travel in the following month, too. Which is why he concluded that Halloween is the best holiday ever.

I still think joining in with others to publicly declare you’re going to get some writing done and then doing it is a good goal. But this year I really, really, really need to focus with laser-like intensity on the book, because that sucker’s not going to write itself. Lucky for me the nerds got it covered: after mulling over it for a bit, I’m going to join up with AcWriMo this November. As you can probably guess from the name, this variant is a way to get specifically academic writing and work done by committing to a goal every day.

I’m not going to set a word count goal because there’s lots of stuff we need to get done that doesn’t involve writing: pulling quotes and images, wrangling citations (oh, Chicago Author-Notes Style, how I detest you!), and probably some reading (depending on the chapter). I’m still trying to fit in daily writing but sometimes all there’s time for is a couple of pages in my journal or a blog post here or elsewhere.

Here’s my goal: (at least) 2 hours of work on the book every day, including weekends. I’ve been striving to hit that goal all semester, and while it’s easy to do on some days (e.g., the 2 days/week I’m taking 2.5 hrs of RT in the morning), I haven’t been able to consistently make it, so I feel like it’s still enough of a stretch. Not sure how I’ll publicly record it — I’ll probably start by tweeting daily and see how that goes.

And if I can do it? I hope that sets me up to keep going at that pace after November ends (possibly with a holiday prep escape clause).


you’re only young once

maura @ 3:31 pm

I’m taking some reassigned time this afternoon. I had a presentation to give in the morning and have a meeting at 5pm, both in Manhattan, and it just seemed silly to go back to Brooklyn. So I’m camped out at the library at the CUNY Graduate Center trying to wrangle a couple of things: a conference proposal (or 2), my plans for the summer (putting in for lots of RT so my partner in crime + I can write a book about this), and cleaning up some stuff around said research project (my kingdom for consistent filenames!).

I spend most of my library time in my workplace. We have about 16K students at my college in a space designed for much, much, fewer, and with little in the way of student lounge areas on campus (and no official student center) things can get a tad noisy, to say the least. Realistically, I don’t think this is unusual even for college libraries that are larger than ours.

But here I am at a library which caters specifically to graduate students and faculty, and you know what? While it’s not nearly as loud as MPOW, I’m frankly surprised by the number of folks I’ve encountered chatting to their neighbors or on their cellphones. Really? In the library??? There’s plenty of casual gathering/chatting space in this building, too. Library voices, indeed!

les tags: ,